READINGS: Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14/ 1 Corinthians 11:23-26/ John 13:1-15
Holy Thursday


According to the first reading, God instructed the Israelites to celebrate the Passover Feast (cf. Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14). For Christians, this old Passover Feast has been replaced by the new Passover Feast of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Making use of the independence of a nation as an analogy, this homily reflects on the old and new Passover Feasts.


The following four elements of the independence of a nation will be used for illustration: Firstly, the independence marks the liberation of the people of a nation. Secondly, it means the people had attained self-determination as sovereign nation. Thirdly often, the independence is achieved through the sacrifices (imprisonments, death, etc.) of the forebears of the people. Fourthly, there is an annual celebration or remembrance’s day of the independence.


Like the independence of a nation, the Passover Feast of the Israelites, firstly, marks the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (cf. Exodus 13:1-22). Secondly, it marks their self-determination as God’s people in the Promised Land (cf. Exodus 34:10-24). Thirdly, in the original Passover event, households sacrificed year-old lambs and used their blood to mark their doorposts to avert the deaths of their firstborn sons (cf. Exodus 24:3-8). Fourthly, there is an annual feast as a memorial of this event as well as of the passing through the Red Sea. Thus, says the Lord: “This day shall be a memorial for you, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever” (Exodus 12:14). Consequently, the Israelites celebrate the Passover Feast every year.


Liberation: After our Lord Jesus Christ had read from the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah in the Synagogue in Nazareth, He stated that He was anointed to, among other things, to bring us liberation (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18). He is the One who saves us from sin, its consequences and from the author of evil (cf. Rom. 3:23-26; 5:12-21).

Self-determination: Christ makes us the People of God by virtue of the new covenant. We are not bound to the evil one and sin as slaves. Rather, by God’s grace, we are now the free children of God, with heaven as our new and eternal homeland (cf. Rom. 6:15-22; 8:14-17). Let us, therefore, not succumb to the temptations or dictates of the evil one (cf. Rom. 6:12-14).

Sacrifice: As the old Passover Feast was established by the blood of sacrificed lambs, so the new Passover had to be. The old covenant of the first Passover Feast became obsolete and it no longer had any effect, due to the unfaithfulness of God’s people. So, God established a new and better covenant.  This new covenant has been sealed, not with the blood of animals, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ through His one perfect sacrifice on the cross (cf. Heb. 9:11-15). Thus, according to John the Baptist, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

St. Paul would go further to say that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). In other words, Christ is not just a lamb sacrificed to save us, He is our very Passover from sinners to saints, from slaves of sin to children of God, and from hell to heaven. In His own words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one goes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). So, the new Passover is not just the celebration of a past event but of the very person of Jesus Christ (our Passover).

Memorial Celebration: As an independence day and the old Passover Feast are celebrated annually in memorial of past events, so at the Last Supper, Jesus gave us the memorial of the new Passover Feast. And to show that the new one replaces the old one, He instituted it during the Jewish Passover Feast (cf. Matt. 26:17-19).

Now, the night before His sacrificial death, Christ offered bread as His body (to be broken on the cross) and wine as His blood which seals the new covenant.  Thus, of the cup of wine, Christ said: “this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28; cf. Luke 22:20). This means that the Holy Eucharist which Christ instituted the night before His death on the cross is closely linked with the actual sacrificial death.  Hence, since He said that we should celebrate the Eucharist in memory of Him (cf. 1 Cor. 11:24; Luke 22:19), anytime we celebrate it, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented (i.e., it is made present again).  This is affirmed by St. Paul: “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes again” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Thus, already at the Last Supper, Christ had all of us in mind. This is very obvious in His priestly prayer at the Last Supper.  He prayed thus: “Father I pray not only for these [my disciples], but for all those who would come to believe through them” (John 17:20).  So, Jesus concerned that you and I would not be at Calvary, and even if we were there, we would not have understood why He was dying such a painful and humiliating death, instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, so that anytime we celebrate it, the redemptive merits of His sacrifice would be made available to us anew.  In short, then, the Eucharist perpetually makes present for us the sacrificial death of Jesus and its redemptive merits (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, #1323).


Unlike the old Passover Feast, the memorial of the new Passover Feast of Christ and His suffering, death and resurrection is not limited to an annual celebration. For Christ, did not say that we should do “this in memory of” Him only annually. Fortunately, His Spirit would inspire St. Paul to explicitly write: “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup …” (1 Cor. 11:26). “Whenever” means that we can celebrate the new Passover Feast as often as possible. Hence, our Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist or Mass every day. Finally, let us participate in the Holy Mass as often as possible, and let us do so well prepared, actively and consciously, so as to enjoy all of its spiritual fruits. Amen!

By Most Rev. John Kobina Louis

Bishop John Kobina Louis

Most Rev. John Kobina Louis is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana. More about him here.

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Catholic Homilies and Sermons for the Liturgical Year by Most Rev. John Kobina Louis, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana.

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