Today, as we come closer to Great Lent, we hear once more the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week. We are entering a process of descent, as it were, into the very depths of reality in which Jesus Christ hands over His own life for the life of the world. And an important moment in this descent is His sharing of the Passover meal with the apostles, in which He gives us the memorial of His death and resurrection, and the assurance of His continued presence in His Church.
This yearly Passover was the Jewish ritual event that narrated and celebrated the Exodus of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It involved the sacrifice of a Passover lamb, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts as protection against the might of the Egyptians. However, in celebrating the Passover with His disciples, Jesus Christ shows them that this symbolism of Passover is really a foreshadowing of His own death and resurrection. He is the true Passover Lamb, who is to be sacrificed to free us from the slavery of sin. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes:
He says, ‘I will no longer come near to such a Pascha as this,’ one that consisted in the typical eating. A lamb of the flock was killed to be the type of the true Lamb until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, that is, until the time has appeared in which the Kingdom of Heaven is preached. This is fulfilled in us who honour the worship that is superior to the law, even the true Pascha. A lamb of the flock does not sanctify those who are in Christ. Christ sanctifies us. He was made a holy sacrifice for us, by the offering of bloodless offerings and the mystical giving of thanks, in which we are blessed and enlivened. He became for us the living bread that came down from heaven, and He gives life to the world.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 19:29-40; 22:7-39:
At that time, when Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here. If any one asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this, ‘The Lord has need of it.'” So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it. And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road. As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying; “Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready.” And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover.
And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this.
A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves.
You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” He said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.”
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.