"Mah nish-tah-na hah-laila-ha-zeh me-kol hah leilot?
(Why is this night different from all other nights?)"
I first encountered this question, when I read it from the subtitle of the movie “The Passion of the Christ” (no need to insert link here; I presume all of you have either watched or heard about this moving film by Mel Gibson). It was from the scene when Mama Mary and Mary Magdalene sensed that the Lord Jesus was already betrayed by Judas and was handed over to be captured by the soldiers.
I read afterwards that it was suggested to be added by the Jewish actress who played Mama Mary, and it was part of the Four Questions which were asked by the youngest child present at the beginning of the Seder ceremony, during the Feast of the Passover celebrated by the Jews every year. This triggers the response, the Haggadah, which is the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt. The Hebrew word “pesach” means "skipping over”, which was how the Israelites were spared by God on the night He struck the land of Egypt, as told in Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, which is also the First Reading for tonight, during the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
I had the opportunity to attend a Christian home celebration of a Seder meal last year, on Holy Thursday, prior to the evening mass. To explain how and why this became a Christian tradition, I researched and got this from http://www.catholicculture.org/:
Celebrating Our Heritage
In the Christian tradition the Passover Seder is also believed to be when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. Gathered around the supper table with his disciples, Jesus told them, "I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.
Then, taking a cup, he gave thanks and said, 'Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes'.
Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me'. He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.'" (Luke 22:15-20)
This Christian observance of this ritual meal celebrates not only our tradition of Christ's last supper but our own Jewish heritage which provided the context for Jesus' institution at the last supper.
The Seder meal was a very memorable experience for me. We ate haroset, marror, and matzah. The table was set beautifully. We read the words of the celebration and I was immediately struck by the familiar first question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?"
I remember vividly where my heart was last year when I heard that question. I was at the tail-end of my discernment. I had left everything just to follow the Lord. At that point, however, it was not clear where I was going, just that I was called. The service that I was asked to consider turned out to be meant for someone far more suited to do it, and I thought I was ok with that as it merely confirmed what I felt in the first place. Yet, as I tasted the bitter herbs, my tears couldn’t stop streaming down my cheeks. The night felt different for me as well, as I had offered my life as a sacrifice yet I did not know where I was going. I was scared and anxious.
I had left my job. I had left my profession. I had also “left” my family by challenging our upbringing because I turned my back on my education (albeit temporarily), and caused my parents anxiety about what future there could be for a voluntary missionary or staff worker of Lingkod. I had left my friends, those with whom it became increasingly difficult to journey through life with, as I continued down one path and they chose another. I had left my dreams, hopes, and plans.
Thus I cried throughout that Seder meal, because I felt close to God and I knew He could hear my sufferings. Surely my suffering was nothing compared to His agony that night, but I shared an intimate moment with Him during the meal, and remembered His goodness. Oh, how difficult it was to focus on His promise, on His grace and mercy, when my heart was bleeding with all the emotions that were burdening me at that time.
Earlier tonight as I knelt before the Eucharist, I thanked God for seeing me through, from that point to this point. I am now living out the consequences of that decision. I have come to accept my cross and even embrace it. I am no longer in the dark about my calling. Just to hear His voice, as a sister put it, is sheer joy. To belong to this Someone is the greatest realization of my life.
As I went home, I realized how, every Holy Thursday for the past few years, the Lord had been speaking to me clearly. In 2001, I prayed about my family and began a journey of healing that continues up to now. And then through visions and words in 2002, God revealed to me that He was calling me to serve His people in Lingkod QC as Branch Women’s Moderator. I did not understand Him at that time, because that was not the desire of my heart. I wanted to live out my dreams, not to serve for two years. Honestly, that was how I felt so I resisted His teaching me to wash the feet of those whom I served. In 2003, I felt my own words as Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet, and then over-eagerly asking that his head and hands be washed as well. Peter was so passionate and foolish at the same time, just like me!
This was taken from the Gospel tonight (John 13:2b-10, NAB):
“So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?”Jesus answered and said to him,“What I am doing, you do not understand now,but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him, "Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all."
I have learned that even though I hear something repeatedly, like the Scripture readings at mass, it could take on a much deeper meaning if I personalize them, situate them to my context at the time I hear them again, and ask the Spirit to reveal to me the message that He wants me to get from it. Jesus speaks in a voice loud and clear.
This time around I was no longer burdened by last year’s worries, but I was faced by new challenges and needed to tell the Lord what was in my heart. I was led to make an offering of my life once more, no matter how little I could offer, and how broken, weak, and sinful I was. I offered my heart to Jesus, and asked that He take my life in His hands, and those dreams and hopes that I had not yet fully surrendered to Him, I gave to Him tonight.
There was freedom, joy, and hope after making that offering in prayer. With such love coming from Jesus, I believed I would gain so much more than what I had given up. God loves me, and I am His. What more indeed could I ask for?
Tomorrow, the love story continues and I would attend a Good Friday recollection for the first time. This makes for a more beautiful Easter in my heart. This is why I trust God, because He has made Himself known not just to me but to my ancestors, and His love is unchanging through all generations. Tonight is different from all other nights. I would drink from the cup of hope and freedom.