Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
(Exodus 11:10-12:14; Matthew 12:1-8)
We cannot sufficiently appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address unless we consider its context. Lincoln gave the speech just a few months after the famous Battle of Gettysburg. It was the deadliest battle of the Civil War and had no clear victor. But it did mark a turning of the tide. Lee’s Army of Virginia was forced to retreat. The Confederacy was on the defensive. It was mostly a matter of time before it surrendered. Lincoln used his opportunity to speak on the bloody battlefield to describe what the war meant – a sacrifice whose purpose was no less than the second founding of the American nation. This time, however, the Union would be true to its first principle that all men and women are created equal.
In order to appreciate the gift of the Eucharist we likewise need to understand its context. Jesus instituted it while following the ancient tradition of a Passover supper, described in the first reading. At the original Passover, taken in Egypt where the Hebrews were treated as slaves, each Hebrew household ate a roasted lamb, the blood of which was spread over the household’s portals. This blood was understood as the cause of the angel of death´s passing over their dwellings while decimating their Egyptian masters.
During the course of the Passover meal he celebrated with his friends, Jesus pronounced a new meaning to the feast. It would mark his death and resurrection. He was the lamb that was to be literally slain the next day at his crucifixion. His blood would also have a saving effect. Christians do not reject the Jewish celebration of Passover today as somehow irreverent to Christ. Indeed, we are grateful for it as a key to understanding the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It marks our passing over from the slavery of sin to freedom in Christ’s Spirit and from subjugation by death to the hope of everlasting life.