“It is the Passover of the Lord.”
With these words,
God institutes the sacred meal and celebration
in which the Israelites
would commemorate God’s salvation of them
when they were slaves in Egypt.
It is called in Hebrew pesach,
which we translate as “Passover,”
in part because it celebrates God’s “passing over”
the homes of the Israelites,
which had been marked with the lamb’s blood,
sparing them from the final and most terrible plague:
the destruction of the first born.
But it is also a celebration of the Israelites “passing over”
from slavery into freedom,
from bondage in Egypt
into the land of God’s promise,
from oppression and death
into new life as God’s covenant people.
It was therefore appropriate that Jesus
would adapt the Passover tradition
in instituting his own sacred meal,
the meal in which his followers would commemorate
Jesus’ passing over from death to life,
and their own passing over
from the captivity to sin and death
into the freedom of God’s grace
and the life of eternal glory.
As St. Augustine said,
“all the mysteries of the Old Testament
were fully consummated
when Christ handed over to his disciples
the bread that was his body
and the wine that was his blood”
(Sermo Mai 143).
Over the course of the next three days,
we will be celebrating Jesus’ passing over
as well as our own passing over:
our passage from bondage into freedom,
from death into life.
But what does that mean concretely?
What does it look like to undertake this journey,
this passage, into freedom and into life?
Pope Benedict wrote,
“Love is the very process of passing over,
of transformation, of stepping outside
the limitations of fallen humanity –
in which we are all separated from one another
and ultimately impenetrable to one another –
into an infinite otherness”
(Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, 54-55).
To pass over is to step out of ourselves
and into the infinite mystery of divine love,
the gift of love that makes possible
true love for one another.
This passing over from self-centeredness
to God-centeredness and to neighbor-centeredness
was echoed by our new Pope, Francis,
just yesterday in his first Wednesday audience:
“to live Holy Week following Jesus
means learning to come out of ourselves. . .
to reach out to others, to go to the outskirts of existence,
ourselves taking the first step towards our brothers and sisters,
especially those farthest away,
those who are forgotten,
those most in need
We live the mystery of the Passover of the Lord
by passing over from self-centeredness to find the other
at the outskirts of existence,
by coming out of ourselves into the mystery of love
in an exodus from bondage to our own needs and desires,
through the mystery of divine love,
and into the promised land of freedom.
The final end of our passing over will only arrive
when we live fully in God’s presence in eternal glory,
but we already begin to live it now
in the hearing of God’s word, in prayer, in the sacraments,
and in loving service to our neighbor.
In a few moments we will obey Jesus’ command
to wash one another’s feet,
as a sign of the passing over from self to other
that lies at the heart of our Holy Week celebration.
But we do not simply wash the feet of others;
we also let our own feet be washed,
because Jesus says that it is only if he washes our feet
that we can share in his inheritance.
The word pesach, which we translate “Passover,”
can also mean “to stumble” or “to trip.”
And we all know, if we are honest with ourselves,
that in our passing over from love of self
to love of God and neighbor
we often stumble,
we almost always trip over ourselves
in one way or another.
So tonight we let Jesus,
in the person of our fellow Christian,
wash our feet with the pure water of his love.
Tonight we who have stumbled let Jesus pick us up
and join our passing over to his own,
so that through him and with him and in him
we can continue our exodus
into the mystery of divine love.