In Jewish circles this is a most holy and a most joyful night, a night of family feasting in grateful remembrance of God’s wondrous blessings; it is a family night because the Passover feast was, from the times of Moses, not a Temple feast celebrated according to minute details of public ritual, but a family gathering in the privacy of the home, a celebration with family and friends.
We are told in the Gospels that Jesus reclined at table with His disciples for what we call the Last Supper. This was prescribed for faithful Jews; they would have ordinarily been seated, but for this special Passover meal they had to eat reclining, stretched out on their left side with head towards the food; it was a symbol of the liberty they were enjoying and celebrating, the liberty God had won for His Chosen People by the wonders He had worked in Egypt and their desert wanderings; wonders whereby He had delivered them from slavery and idolatry and brought them to their own land where they might freely learn to live and worship as God’s Chosen People.
This was the occasion to which Jesus had really been looking forward, for it would serve as a launching-pad, so to speak, for the ultimate freedom of God’s People -- freedom from sin -- that Jesus was about to win and commit to His Apostles’ care:
And He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15)
The Last Supper was no sad occasion for saying “Good-by”, nor should our memorial of it be overshadowed by thoughts of impending loss and grief. How on earth could Our Lord have eagerly desired to eat such a sorrowful leave-taking meal with His disciples? This was, on the contrary, something to be eagerly desired, something towards which His whole life’s endeavour had been leading, something that would express the fulfilment of His consuming zeal for His Father, His compassion for His People and for us. It was to be a celebration based on the grateful remembrance of God’s historic goodness indeed, but much more, one looking forward to something memorable beyond measure, for they were now prefiguring and indeed actually setting in motion the ultimate fulfilment of the mission for which Jesus had been sent by His Father, for which Israel had been gradually prepared over many centuries, and for which the nations had been languishing long; a fulfilment the disciples had been chosen to serve with their lives, and one that would – drawing them through Calvary to the Resurrection and Gift of the Holy Spirit -- totally transform them into selflessly brave and devoted Apostles of the Risen Lord, and wise servants and leaders of His Church on earth:
I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
This meal was, therefore, the final preparation for the salvation to be brought about, purchased indeed, by Jesus the Messiah: it was to be the seal of His now fully discovered life-purpose for which He had so humbly and patiently searched and scrutinized, communed with and prayed over, the Scriptures; yes, every single word, every ‘jot and title’ of them. This meal was to be the most intimately human and life-fulfilling gift of Self to His disciples present and future; to be the ultimate and most sublime celebration with His disciples of His Father’s eternally enduring ‘good will towards men’ of all nations. How truly is it said:
Happy are those who are called to His Supper.
Humanity had long been in darkness, alienated from the true happiness of life. Created, indeed, by God and for God, but deceived by Satan and enchained in sin, the human state stirred such compassion in the Father that He sent His only Son to share in and save the weakness of human flesh by living and dying as Son of Man sinless despite Satan’s power, cunning, and hatred. Having thus broken the chains of sin He rose again as Son of God, and in the power of that Resurrection ready to pour out His healing and Holy Spirit upon all believers in His name, whom the Spirit who would then form into a likeness of their Lord and Saviour for the glory of the Father.
This was, therefore, no time for sad forebodings, but for ardent aspirations for what was to come: Jesus was indeed to suffer and to die but it would be for a divine purpose to be most surely achieved by His embracing the shameful cross on Calvary before entering upon the consummate glory of His Resurrection on the third day, (cf. Hebrews 12:2):
Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Although it might seem that Jesus’ life was being taken from Him by the superior power of death after having been betrayed by human treachery and condemned by human hatred, Jesus was not going to allow His disciples to suffer any such deceits of Satan. At this Supper He now most deliberately offered His coming crucifixion and death to His Father, resolving to accept it and embrace it out of obedient love and in total commitment. It would not be a result of the tragic betrayal that Judas’ action would seem to signify, because that imminent Passion and Death was now being lovingly embraced and yet more lovingly dedicated and offered by Jesus to wipe away the sins and betrayals of men and women (including Judas) of all times. The whole tenor of tomorrow’s crucifixion was being pre-determined now, at this very meal, by Jesus. He would die out of supreme zeal for His Father’s great glory, out of redeeming love for His People and compassion for sinful humanity the world over: all in accordance with and fulfilment of the wisdom, the beauty, and the sublime goodness, of divine Providence.
At the Passover Meal the Jews celebrated God’s wonders which saved the nation from physical slavery in Egypt; how much more should we, the new People of God, celebrate the wonder of God’s love for us manifested in the gift of His Son to us and for us? How much more should we rejoice in the love which Jesus had and has for us; that love which led Him to endure the Cross and to scorn its shame so that He might enable us to have access to and, in Him attain to, our heavenly home:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
This night Jesus rejoices that soon He will be able to lead a host of disciples into the supreme joy of the heavenly banquet in the Kingdom of, and before the very presence of, His beloved Father whose will, purposes, whose Person, He had sought so humbly, so patiently, so whole-heartedly as Son of man on earth to serve and glorify.
Dear People of God, Holy Mass continues, so live it, love it, and above all:
Do this in memory of Me.