Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
On the night before Jesus was to offer His life, His very body and blood, for the redemption of the human race, He sat down with His chosen 12 apostles to celebrate the feast of the Passover with them. St. Luke records that Jesus told his companions that evening, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Lk. 22:15) One wonders, did they catch those last words, “before I suffer,” or were they, like other times, uncomprehending of their import for what was about to happen to Jesus.
Certainly the Lord was perfectly aware of everything that was about to take place that evening an the next day. St. John says clearly “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” At last His hour had come, and it all begins with this celebration of the Passover meal during which He will institute the new sacrificial meal, the new Passover rite, that will both recall and perpetuate the Sacrifice of Himself that He will offer on Calvary till the end of time. He was fully conscious of His destiny, fully eager to consummate His mission, and full of love for His apostles and for the Church that receive his gift of the Eucharist as His greatest gift to His Church.
But it seems certain that only the Lord knew what was about to take place that evening and over the next two days. The apostles themselves knew only a part of what was about to happen, that they were going to celebrate the Passover with their beloved Master, but the rest was still hidden from their eyes. They were not ready for the full truth, and it would shake their faith, but was this perhaps one of the reasons why the Lord instituted the Eucharist that evening, before His sacrificial death, precisely to strengthen them with the Bread of Angels against the horrors of what was about to take place. By the power of this Sacrament, they would be strengthened, and although they would stumble, they would not, except for one, be lost.
Again, John’s Gospel helps us to understand this great mystery. He says, at the beginning of the Gospel we just heard, that Jesus was “fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Yes, He was about to return to the Father in his humanity, also for our sake to be sure, but he would not leave us abandoned or powerless before the Evil One and the powers of this world who had plotted his death. He would remain with His Church always and communicate His power to save through His Word and Sacraments. And above all, He would remain with us and share His power with us in the Sacrament of His sacrificial Body and Blood, the Most Holy Eucharist.
What, then, is the power of this Holy Sacrament, and why does the Church treasure this gift above all others bequeathed to her by Jesus on Holy Thursday? We must first ask ourselves, what is the power that redeemed and saves mankind from the attacks of the Evil One and from the flesh and the world? Jesus did not use military power or political power to conquer his enemies. He used solely His self-sacrificing charity, divine Love. With Charity alone he conquered Satan, sin and death. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of His Charity, and it is the greatest source of that virtue’s growth in our souls. It is this spiritual power that Jesus communicates to us every time we worthily celebrate and receive the Most Holy Eucharist.
So when Jesus told His Apostles that He had longed to eat this Passover meal with them, he was far from expressing some trendy emotional desire simply to be with his friends and companions on His last evening in this world. Too often today we hear this kind of trivialization of the sacred moments in the Gospels. While He certainly enjoyed being with his chosen friends and disciples, on this evening He was really focused on the final realization of the mission He had received from the Father , for, as John says, He was fully aware, “that he had come from God,” and He came for one purpose, and that purpose and mission was our salvation. What he would do for us that evening would make it possible not only for Him to be with us until the end of time, but also would enable each of us to be with Him for all eternity in the embrace of His love.
So, our remembrance tonight of the Last Supper is not simply that of a memorial of His last evening on earth, but a profound meditation upon and celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice that he bequeathed to us on that night, by means of which we are so privileged to possess the Eucharist as our food for immortality and medicine for our earthly life, and the power by which we engage in the spiritual warfare that confronts the Church in every age. The Holy Eucharist is what truly empowers us to love God above all and to love our neighbor as our self, which is the very formula for our salvation and our hope for Eternal Life.
During that evening of the First Eucharist, Jesus instructed his apostles at length about the meaning of his actions and the way they must live lives of faith and charity, Eucharistic lives that will bring them at last into His heavenly kingdom. But he did not tell them all, for as He said, “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” They must live by faith, hope and Charity, and allow the Spirit of Love to guide them always. He reassures the Apostles ans the Church that “the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” But He does at last give them a hint of what is to follow shortly, when he says, “you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.” This spiritual experience will be true for the whole Church down through the ages, but in a special way it will be true for His beloved Apostles on that night.
But the Eucharist they had just received will carry them, and us, through the dark times and will eventually restore God’s joy. It’s power is invincible because it is, like Jesus Himself, from the Father. Christians will come to understand, gradually, by its reception again and again, the deep meaning of Jesus’ words which so shocked his followers when He first spoke them: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. … “the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” This is the deep faith of the Church, and it is this gift that carries us to victory in Christ, and with Christ and through Christ. Amen.