All of Christendom celebrates Easter – the promise by Jesus that we also will rise again after our death to eternal life. The three holy days before Easter, the SACRUM TRIDUUM, begin with tonight’s celebration and end with the Easter solemnity.
The first reading, the psalm and the second reading - all three - focus our attention on the Eucharist which is instituted in this “Last Supper” of Our Lord. But for many the gospel story from John’s Last Supper is a surprise and even a disappointment. Why all this attention to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples when he is giving us the Eucharist?
We recall another meal (Luke 17:36 ff) when Jesus was invited by a Pharisee. The custom of the time was that the host would have his servants make the guests comfortable by cleansing their feet before they recline at table for the meal, conversation and fellowship. This is what Jesus is doing for his disciples in the upper room.
But this isn’t just a meal but the Passover celebration when faithful Jews recalled how Yahweh saved them from slavery and led them through the desert to their promised land. That event prefigures what Jesus is about to do for us all in this paschal mystery of salvation we are celebrating. And Jesus is present to his disciples in this meal as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah.
This teaching moment of washing their feet before the meal is what St. Paul refers to in Philippians 2:5 ff that we should imitate our messiah who did not depend on his divinity, but came among us as a servant, even to the point of dying on the cross.
So, before Jesus enters in this paschal mystery of suffering and dying for us so that we can rise again after our lifetime of suffering and dying, Jesus celebrates the Passover feast that points to that salvation. And as the host, he teaches his disciples and us, that we need to serve others and not use our influence and authority to lord it over them. Only after this humble service of Jesus before the meal will Jesus then institute the Sacrament of his life, his love and presence among us.
This three-day introduction to the Easter celebration starts with humbly placing ourselves among others and serving them. Then we enter into the paschal Sacrum Triduum that concludes with the celebration of the Resurrection of Life that is promised us by our loving Savior.
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