Our Christian Holy Week takes place in the first month of the Jewish calendar, the month of Nisan. In an article in the highly respected British scientific journal, Nature, two British physicists, Colin J. Humphreys and W. G. Waddington made the necessary calculations in astronomy to show that Jesus Christ died on Friday, April 3rd, the 15th of Nisan, in the year AD 33. The physics teacher and Biblical commentator, Ed Rickard, sets out the arguments that conclusively show why this date is correct. I find this helpful. We know the precise day when Jesus Christ died, the third of April AD 33; and therefore, we also know that for some thirty plus years before that date He lived. Jesus Christ lived and died on earth. We anchor our Christian faith in the reality of His life and death.
Now, this Holy Thursday is a tremendously important and inspiring day in the life of Jesus Christ and in the lives of each of us. At the end of this day, after the Passover Meal and the Washing of the Feet of the Disciples and the evening prayer in the Garden at Gethsemane, the Gospel of St John, Chapter 17, tells us how Jesus Christ “lifted up His eyes to heaven; and said, ‘Father, the hour has come. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.’”
Now “the hour” to which Jesus Christ is referring is clearly the Crucifixion, but what precisely is “the work”? In verses 6 to 8 of that same Chapter 17, Our Lord Jesus Christ explains: “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” In this passage from the Gospel of St John, Jesus Christ expresses His confidence that He has today done the work that the Father intended for Him to do. Let us be clear. We ourselves, each one of us, are “the work” that Jesus Christ finished on this Holy Thursday. We are the people who along with the disciples have received the words of the Father through the Son.
Clearly, Jesus Christ intends that we are to continue His work. As Chapter 17, verses 15 to 19 of the Gospel of St John report, Jesus Christ says: “I do not pray that You [that is, the Father] should take them [that is the disciples and us] out of the world, but that You should keep them [and us] from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world,” says Jesus Christ. “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes, I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.”
What does that mean to be “sanctified by the truth”? What is this experience of being “sanctified by the truth” which Jesus Christ believes is so important that every believer in His word should be sure to receive it? The great fourth century preacher and teacher, St John Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of John states that “Sanctify them by Your truth means “Make them holy through the gift of the [Holy] Spirit and [through] right doctrines.” Thus to be sanctified by the truth of God the Father is to receive the Holy Spirit and to be joined to the Church that teaches “right doctrine”.
The final words of the final verse of Chapter 17 of the Gospel of St John emphasize that the key doctrine, the key teaching that Jesus Christ wishes to leave with us at the conclusion of this Holy Thursday is that the love with which the Father loved the Son can be in each of us, and that Jesus Christ Himself can be in each of us.
That is quite a challenge. To understand the depth of the love that the Father has for the Son seems to me almost beyond my capability. How can we each become so fully a part of the Holy Trinity that we can even begin to understand the love of the Father for the Son? The only way forward for me is to make the decision that I want Jesus Christ to be within me. I wish to be so much in unity with Jesus Christ that He and I are one. How? By receiving Holy Communion, by receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That possibility of being one with Jesus Christ is clearly set out for us on this Holy Thusday. The Eucharist is begun. As St Luke explains in his gospel, Chapter 22, verses 19 to 21, Jesus Christ takes bread and says to His disciples and to us: “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”. Then Jesus Christ takes a cup of wine and says: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you”.
In the book of Exodus, Chapter 12, the Israelites in Egypt were urged to eat lamb and then mark the doorposts and lintels of their homes with the blood of that lamb in order to experience the blessing of God the Father. It is today on Holy Thursday that this old covenant becomes a marker, a sign of the new covenant in which we as Christians are urged to eat the lamb of Jesus Christ who will be sacrificed tomorrow on Great and Holy Friday not only for the Jewish people, but for all the people of the world. Then, just as death passed over the homes of those Israelites who had the courage to mark their homes and their lives as followers of God the Father, so we Christians who have the courage to mark ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ by receiving His Body and His Blood will experience the fullness of the blessing that the Holy Trinity intends for each of us.
To conclude, in reflecting on the meaning of Holy Thursday, St Augustine wrote: “And so, the Saviour’s prayer is finished, his passion begins. Let us, therefore [experience] his passion, as He grants us grace”. I think St Augustine would agree that by receiving Holy Communion on this Holy Thursday we not only prepare ourselves for Great and Holy Friday, but we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power, praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.