Reflections on the Readings
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
March 24, 2013 - Year C
The Family Table
When the hour came, Jesus took his place at table with the apostles. He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer..."
Jesus breaks bread with his disciples only a few hours before he is betrayed, denied, and crucified. Yet he approaches the hour of eating Passover with his closest followers with an eagerness. He will transform the meaning and the substance of the bread they eat and the wine they drink, saying, "The bread is my Body; the wine is my blood." My friend, Bruce, recently shared in our small group Lenten study about this eagerness of our Lord. He explained it was like the Lord saying, "This was my plan since the creation! I can't wait to do this! This is how we will always be together!"
The Passover observance and meal is celebrated by every family in Israel. The family gathers together to partake of the Seder. The Seder is a meal of roasted lamb, bitter herbs, salt water, bread, and four cups of wine recounting Israel's life of slavery in Egypt and their dramatic deliverance from the hand of Pharoah.
On the night before the angel of death visited the land of Egypt, every family in the tribes of Israel killed a lamb and applied its blood on the doorposts and lintel of their dwelling. They roasted the meat of the lamb and ate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were commanded to eat with their traveling clothes on and with their shoes on their feet. Moses advised the people, "It is the Lord's passover."
For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:12-13)
The Passover Seder meal enabled Israel to stay connected as a people and to their history as the people of God. Jesus celebrated this memorial of his people with his closest followers. Jesus revealed in the celebration of the Passover a new meal celebrating the union of his people with God made possible by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Paul, teaching the Corinthians explained, "Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed."
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: In the Church, the celebration of the Christian mystery of the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover. In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated, the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them. In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present.(Section 1362 - 1364)
I read a book a few years ago entitled, Journey Back to Eden. In it, Fr. Mark Gruber, O.S.B., recounts his life and times among the Desert Fathers. One of his excursions included taking a jeep into the desert area surrounding Egypt's oldest Monastery, the Monastery of St. Catherine. The jeep was not in good working order and after a while the engine died. Providentially he discovered an encampment of Bedouins who receive him with a generous, if not excessive, display of hospitality.
Gruber recalls, "Part of the hospitality of the father of the tent-dwellers was to pour out at my feet the equivalent of a bushel of cakes of bread!"
Nomads in the region bake large quantities of bread whenever they are near a generous supply of water. There are no microwaves, no refrigeration, no Saran Wrap to help keep the bread. Rather, the bread is baked in such a way so that a thick crust covers the bread keeping the bread inside moist and fresh. Gruber continues, "The father of the tent-dwellers picked up one of the cakes of bread at my feet and broke it open for me. I scooped out the insides and ate the delicious bread. Even as I was eating the first cake, he broke another and put it before me. I thanked him and said that I had had enough, but he urged me to a third one, even though I was only nibbling on the second. I told him that I was really satiated, and that I would need to leave soon."
This hospitality continued unabated by Gruber's protests to the contrary. Gruber states that the head of the house opened all the cakes of bread lying before him. All of the bread of the family, each and every one of the cakes of bread, were broken open in front of him by the head of the house. Gruber concluded, "The gesture was unmistakeable. He wanted me to know that he had withheld from me nothing, that he had put before me everything at his disposal. He wanted me to know that I had been well received, and by this gesture, this extravagant waste, this complete sacrifice, I would be persuaded, convinced, of his kindness. I would be certain of his hospitality."
On the night our Lord was betrayed, he took bread and wine, and blessed them and gave them to his fledgling Church and said, "This is my body; this is my blood, given for you." Why? He wants us to be certain of his hospitality. He wants you and me to know that he has withheld nothing from us and that this is how we will always be together! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com