“Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Earlier this week, in Jewish homes throughout the world, that question was asked four times by the youngest person present. The question interrupted a meal called a Seder which inaugurated the celebration of Passover. Each time the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” was asked, the host told a portion of the story of the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt.
As Christians, we might well ask that same question tonight –“Why is this night different from all other nights?” Tonight inaugurates The Triduum – the three days at the center of the Christian Calendar – three days set aside as Sacred Time.
Three days offer us moments of instruction and memory and celebration of God’s love – moments that interrupt the normal flow of our days.
Tonight, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper – Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist – which took place at a Passover meal. We will celebrate after sundown – there being no celebration of Eucharist during today’s daylight hours – and after tonight, it will not be celebrated again until the Easter Vigil.
Tonight we will interrupt the Lord’s Supper to call to mind in a very poignant way Jesus’ interruption of that long-ago Passover meal – when He washed his disciples’ feet symbolizing the humble service which is to be one of the hallmarks of Christian living.
Tonight, the altar will be stripped and all superfluous decoration eliminated.
Indeed, tonight will be different from all other nights as we begin to celebrate the final movement of our redemption –our deliverance from darkness into light –from the bondage of sin into the freedom of a child of God – tonight we begin to celebrate in a focused, special way the Paschal Mystery – The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate each year Passover and make present the events of long ago –as they tell the story once again of their salvation –we recall in a special way through liturgical action, prayer and meditation OUR Passover – we tell our story again.
In our first reading from the Book of Exodus at Tenebrae, we call to mind God’s leading the Israelites in crossing the Red Sea to safety from the Egyptians and in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we call to mind Jesus, the leader in our salvation, being made perfect through suffering for us all.
Tonight, we will remember with special emphasis the origin of Eucharist and Jesus’ instruction to eat the bread and drink the cup, and so proclaim his death until he comes in glory.
Tonight, we remember Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and his instruction to them and us his followers, to do likewise for one another—to get down on our knees.
Tonight, the Church through its liturgy presents us with the opportunity to reflect on and celebrate being given the gift of Eucharist and to reflect on the great commission – mandatum – the mandate to do as Jesus did – to take on the role of loving servants to one another.
Yes, tonight will be different from all other nights.
Today, marks the end of Lent – a time wherein we were asked to look at what might need to be turned around in our lives, and hopefully our Lenten practices, whatever they may have been, have prepared us to enter into the mystery of this sacred time more fully.
It is good to call to mind in a focused way the circumstances surrounding the institution of Eucharist – the poignancy of Jesus sharing a final meal just prior to his death so as to reflect upon Jesus’ love in giving us his Body and Blood.
It is good to have the visual example of humble, loving service shown in the washing of feet.
It is good to feel the void and coldness in this room when the Blessed Sacrament is not present.
And it is good that we begin these three holy days by asking pardon of one another for any scandal or bad example we may have given and to beg for prayer that each of us will make a worthy Easter Communion.
Let us pray that at the end of these three days, when we celebrate The Easter Vigil –the night when men and women all over the world will be received into the Church and so enter the life of Christ by being washed clean in Baptism –marked chosen by being anointed with perfumed oil – and led for the first time into the candle-lit banquet of Eucharist – that we, having pondered the Paschal Mystery over these days might indeed join hands with them around the Table of the Lord.
The Hebrew people were different after The Passover Experience –they came to an understanding of themselves as a people special to God – and they were never the same again.
The Disciples of Jesus were also different after his Passion, Death and Resurrection – they had been witnesses to a singular event – and they would never be the same again.
Why will this night be different from all other nights? Because tonight is the beginning of the one liturgy – spread over three days where in we enter into the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus –the source of our salvation.
Through the celebration of these three days may we be graced –so as to never be the same again.
Brother August Parlavechio,CP