Palm Sunday, 2022

My Dear People,

While Jesus reclines with the apostles at the supper table, He gives a farewell address and announces His upcoming suffering, death, and the institution of the Eucharist. All this is part of an unfolding plan that “has been determined” and “must be fulfilled.”  Jesus is not passively resigned to His destiny, but actively takes the initiative to accomplish His purpose. His comment: “I have eagerly desired to eat!” (literally, “with desire, I have desired to eat,” reflecting an underlying Hebrew expression) is another indication that He acts with intention. The significance of what He says and does here can be examined by focusing on three interrelated key words. 

  1. Passover: This Passover night is different from all others. It is a reenactment of the Jewish Passover in Exodus. Those who observe the annual Passover feast do not simply recall the exodus as a past event but, in a sense, relive it now and thus experience the Lord’s saving power. However, at this Passover, Jesus instituted his memorial, saying, “in memory of me.”  Likewise, He is about to accomplish His “exodus”—His death and resurrection—which will bring to those who believe in Him a different kind of liberation—forgiveness of their sins. Thus, His Apostles observing the new Passover memorial in obedience to His command will experience the saving power of this new exodus.      At the institution of the new Passover, which was prefigured at the multiplication of the loaves with its similar actions, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the Apostles. His accompanying words provide the interpretation. The bread is not the expected “bread of affliction” of the exodus, but becomes His very self: “This is my body.” In the new Passover, it will be Jesus’ body, not that of the lamb, that will be given in sacrifice. Like the sacrifice of the lamb, this will be done for you, He tells the Apostles. In other words, it is done on their behalf and for their benefit. Moreover, this body is eaten, as was the lamb. Bread that has become the Eucharist through these words is not merely a symbol. Just as the lamb is real, so the Eucharist is really His body, as indeed Christians have understood from the beginning. Likewise, Jesus’ words provide the interpretation of the cup taken after supper. The third of the four cups of wine in the Passover meal, the “cup of blessing,” becomes my blood. By drinking the cup, His Apostles thus have communion in His blood. Jesus is referring to his imminent, violent death: His blood will be shed like “the blood of all prophets since the foundation of the world.” However, “He transforms His violent death into a free act of giving for others and to others.” He has already indicated in speaking of His body that His death becomes a sacrifice offered for you.  He again tells His Apostles His blood is not just shed but “poured out.” Indeed, the blood of the Passover lamb and sacrifices in general were poured out at the base of the altar. 
  1. Kingdom: Prior to the two statements about His body and blood, Jesus announces His imminent death.  After this meal, He will not eat the Passover meal nor drink its cups of wine until the time of fulfillment of the coming kingdom of God. With these words, Jesus looks ahead to His resurrection and entrance into kingly glory. After His resurrection, He will eat and drink with His Disciples, a sign of the kingdom banquet where He will once again eat and drink with His apostles. Certainly, the kingdom has already come among them in Jesus; yet its future coming in power has not yet occurred. Thus, just as the Jewish Passover not only looks back to the exodus, it also looks forward towards God’s saving action in the future. So, whenever His disciples celebrate the Eucharist, they too will do so not only in memory of Jesus’ death but also in anticipation as a foretaste of the kingdom banquet. 
  2. Covenant: Following the first Passover and the exodus, Moses at Mount Sinai threw the blood of sacrifices against the altar when God established the covenant with the twelve tribes of Israel. He also “splashed it on the people, saying, this is the blood of the covenant” (exodus 24:8), before taking part in a sacred meal in which “they ate and drank.” Here in the context of the Last Supper with the twelve Apostles, Jesus’ reference to a covenant in His blood recalls this event. However, it also indicates something new. Indeed, if there is a new Passover and a new exodus, there will also be a “new covenant” (1 Cor 11:25), as Jeremiah had prophesized: “See, days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). Moreover, under the Mosaic covenant, the bread of the presence was offered and set out each Sabbath (Lev. 24:7) by the Levitical priests as a kind of grain offering. It was an un-bloody sacrifice. The unleavened loaves were a “memorial” of the covenant made at Sinai. Here, Jesus’ command to His apostles to do this in “memory” of Him means that the eucharistic bread that the Apostles will offer will serve as a memorial representing the New Covenant established by Jesus through His bloody sacrifice. Thus, the role of the Apostles in the New Covenant was in a sense prefigured by that of the Levitical priests in the Mosaic covenant. Because of Jesus’ command, the Church understands the Last Supper as the Institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the New Covenant priesthood.  

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Vincent Clemente



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