The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year. Tell the whole community of Israel: On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb, one apiece for each household. If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb in proportion to the number of persons who partake of it. The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish. You may take it from either the sheep or the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight. They shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
"This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the LORD. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt I, the LORD! But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. "This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution."
How shall I make a return to the Lord
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R./)
Precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds. (R./)
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the Lord.
My vows to the Lord I will pay
in the presence of all his people. (R./)
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples" feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord-and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
When Jesus says, "Do this in memory of me!" clearly he means us to understand what "This" was and is. What exactly had he in mind through the symbols of the broken bread and the shared cup of wine? We need to get behind the formal Catechism answer about the "holy sacrifice of the Mass," and think anew about the meaning of that paschal meal. The Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and tonight's first reading explains the meaning of this feast. In words and symbols it recalled the greatest saving act of God in the Old Testament, the exodus from Egypt, setting God's people free from slavery. It opens us up to the idea that God enters our lives to save us and set us free from whatever oppresses us. So "opened up," we are prepared for the good news that the definitive saving work of God is done in and by Jesus Christ.
We reflect on what St John calls the "hour" of Jesus, the high point of his saving work, the new exodus, his passing from this world to the Father through which he brought into being a new relationship between God and us human beings. Sharing in this new exodus is our ultimate liberation, freeing us from enslavement to material things and petty self-interest and setting us free to love generously, the very purpose for which we were originally created in the image of God. Through his love-without-limit, in his own utterly unselfish heart Jesus overcame all human selfishness and with it, human sin. Precisely this love, which the Father wants us all to have and to share, is the very heart of Jesus' exodus. It is just this self-giving kind of love which Jesus wants to be kept alive among us. With his disciples in the Last Supper he anticipated his death for us on the cross, giving himself in the sacramental symbols of bread and wine. From then on the celebration of our Eucharist is the living memorial through which we are joined to Our Lord's saving act of love. It is our way to share in the new exodus, to be freed from the isolation of self-concern so that they become fully human as God wants us to be.
St John implies that we are united with Jesus by letting him wash our feet, accepting his great act of loving service. Having accepted the gift we must embrace it as a value to practice in our lives. What Jesus does for us in his Passion shows us how to live. In some real sense, we must live like Jesus, "for" God and others. There is a close link between Jesus washing their feet and then their going on to wash the feet of others in the future. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes our feet, daily life is the place where we can wash the feet of others. Eucharist leads to life leads to Eucharist. True Eucharist piety must lead to service of others. Jesus who broke the bread of the Eucharist also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and at the altar of life.
There is much more to the washing of the feet than an example of humble service. The act of loving service goes to the heart of Jesus' death and resurrection. The "lifting up" in John's Gospel is truly an act of loving service. The words at the start of this reading make that clear: Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. These words make it clear that whatever happens next points most deeply to the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Can we accept such astonishing love from God?