Holy and Great Thursday
The Bride of Christ, our blessed Church celebrates in triumph today. Gathered in the Upper Room with the disciples, our Lord commands the Passover of the New Covenant be celebrated in his memory, of his Body broken and his Blood shed for the remission of our sins.
Today we associate the evening service of Vespers with the Divine Liturgy and implore the Lord, "0 Son of God, accept me this day as a communicant of your Mystical Supper, for I will not reveal your mystery to your enemies, nor like Judas will I give you a kiss, but like the thief will I profess you: `Remember me, 0 Lord, in your kingdom.”
The liturgical celebration of the Lord's Supper today is not merely only the annual remembrance of the institution of the sacramental Mystery of the Eucharist. The very event of the Passover meal itself is not merely a last-minute action by the Lord to institute the central and auspicious commemoration of the very core and apex of Christian life and effort in the Eucharist. Today the entire mission of Christ and indeed the very purpose of creation itself at the beginning of the world is so that God's beloved creature, made in his own divine image and likeness, could be in them so intimate communion with him for eternity, sitting at table with him being nourished and drinking in his unending kingdom. Thus our Lord speaks to the disciples encouraging words from the Father, "Fear not little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" Luke 12: 32. Then again, further words of promise and assurance, "You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom...." Luke 22: 28 - 31.
Thus is associated the Mystical Supper with that which is yet to come, tomorrow, on the Cross, the pouring out of the Blood of the Saviour and the breaking of the actual Body of our Redeemer. But most of all, and subsequent to all this preparation, the triumphal victory of three day stay in the tomb culminates in the mind-shattering and astounding Resurrection from the dead. Today is a day of thanksgiving because "Blessed are those who are invited to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb" Revelation 19: 9.
The Holy Eucharist is popularly called the sacramental Mystery of Mysteries in the blessed tradition of our Church. It is the center of the life of the Church. Everything in the Church leads and points and directs and shows all flows from it. It is the completion of all the mysteries of the Body of Christ, the source and goal of all the Church's doctrine and institution and teaching.
The Christian Eucharist is specifically associated with and connected to the Passover meal of the Old Covenant. Just as the Old Covenant meal commemorated the liberation of the Chosen People from slavery in Egypt, so the Christian Passover meal is elevated and transformed to remembrance of him, of his life, his death, and victory over death in Resurrection as the new and eternal Passover Lamb who frees from the slavery of evil, ignorance, and death and transports them into the everlasting and never-ending life of the kingdom of God. The Eucharist is the center of Christian life because through it we become Christ-like. In being nourished by other food, that food becomes a vital part of us and is transformed into our body and being. But in the Eucharist, the change that occurs is us becoming like Christ; He does not become like us; we become like him. The word eucharist is used because that all-embracing word which means "thanksgiving" conveys the complete and total meaning of the Lord's banquet as that of gratitude and thanksgiving to Almighty God in Christ and the Holy Spirit for all He does in making, saving, and glorifying the world. It is called "communion" because in it and through it and by it we enter into union with the very Source of our being, our God, the Sustainer of our sanctity and holiness.
Orthodoxy accepts the reality of the body and blood actually embodying the Body and Blood of the Saviour and certainly not as johnnie-come-lately westerners often understand the Eucharist, not in a spiritual and enduring sense, but merely intellectually or psychological symbols.
Our heavenly patron, St. Paul provides insights for us which are invaluable in this regard, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he gave thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." "This cup; is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death, until he comes. Whoever, therefore eats the bread and drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" 1 Corinthians 11: 23 - 26.
What privilege is ours today as we celebrate this holyday of profound abiding meaning. This which we receive is indeed a mystery of the kingdom of Heaven which as Jesus told us is "Not of this world" Because it belongs to the eternal kingdom of God, it is truly free from earthborn `logic' of fallen humanity. Let us glorify further our God who has called us into his intimacy of salvation in the Eucharistic unbloody sacrifice!