Thursday, April 13, 2006

Holy Thursday 2006

(This, more or less, was the homily from tonight. It's a little bit of a mess and I admit that I added things here and there and forgot equal much. I hope you find it edifying.)

Homily – Holy Thursday
April 13, 2006
Sacred Heart, Alva

It is not a popular word in today’s speech. It is a word, however, indispensable to the next three days. The entire Triduum revolves around this one word: sacrifice. Each of these nights, the Church solemnly comes together to pray, to re-live, to experience sacrifice in its rawest and most real form via her sacred liturgy. Tonight, let us consider how sacrifice is both anticipated and re-presented for our sakes.

When we think of the sacrifice of our Lord, our minds naturally turn to the cross, and certainly, that is a proper religious instinct. To limit it to this however, grossly understates what the sacrifice of our Lord looks like. The Sacrifice of Christ culminates in the Cross; it began in the manager of Bethlehem. As we heard on Sunday, Jesus didn’t deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather he, who is Master of Creation and the Universe, became a slave. Given that none of us are particularly keen on losing any signs and emblems of status we might have, we can only pause before how tremendous this emptying must have been. Like pouring the ocean into a china tea cup was the Incarnation; eternal tides and depths of being poured into the cracked and finite nature of man. The incarnation is only the beginning.

Looking at the scope of his life, we discover our Lord and Savior picking up the pieces of His own people. Starting with the temptation in the desert, Jesus Christ sought to bring all of Israel back to the Lord. St. Melito of Sardis says it better: “It is he (Christ) who endured every kind of suffering in all those who foreshadowed him. In Abel, he was slain, in Isaac bound, in Jacob exiled, in Joseph sold, in Moses exposed to die. He was sacrificed in the Passover Lamb, persecuted in David, dishonored in the prophets.” Even tonight, as he washes the disciples’ feet, he sacrifices himself. Washing of feet was considered so awful a task that not even slaves were obliged to do it. I guess in a largely barefoot, livestock on the street sort of world, we can sympathize. We come here tonight to witness a sacrifice; We come tonight because the Lamb is about to be offered.

Now a brief word on the Passover is needed here. Of all the sacrifices of Israel, this Passover was the key. Contained within the lamb was a double meaning. For the Israelites, the lamb meant life and freedom as they fled Egypt. For the Egyptians, the lamb presaged death in their land. But both effects, life and death, were achieved when the Lamb died. The lamb’s blood marked out the Israelites and they were spared. The lamb’s blood marked separation from Egypt and they suffered death wandering in their lanes. And Israelites didn’t just sacrifice the lamb; they ate. By this, they shared a meal of God’s own choosing which couldn’t exist without a sacrifice.

In Christ, this is now perfected. All of us are slaves; let’s just get over it. You and I are slaves to our sins, our passions, our vices. Now, the blood of the True Lamb marks not doorpost and lintel, but our very souls as we are immersed into the Passover of the Lord. In this last Passover and First Eucharist, the Lord anticipates the Cross: it is why he consecrates the bread and wine separately. He anticipates how his own body and blood will fall into the hands of Godless men and how that blood will fall, drop after precious drop upon the dust of the earth. The old bows its head to receive what it was preparing for: the Death of Our Savior. I'll do you one better: he not only anticipates it, he acheives the work of the Cross in this moment in the upper room. In essence, for the words, "This is my body, this is my blood," to make any sense requires this moment to be a real sacrifice, albeit unbloody. It's that curious move that God sometimes takes to allow the effect to precede the cause. In this case, they feast on a real sacrifice before the sacrifice becomes painfully clear. To be anything less is to consign one's self to shadows again. If the sacrifice of the Mass isn't real, then we haven't really progressed beyond a sign pointing to something greater.

As the Passover was then, so the Passover is now. The first Passover freed the Israelites and permitted them to enter the Promised Land. The second Passover frees us from sin, suffering, and death, and permits us to see and to have a foretaste of the true Promised Land. And like the first, we taste this liberation by eating the flesh of the Sacrifice. We taste it by eating and drinking the Body and Blood of the Lord which is given to us under appearances. Who could choke down a cold chunk of human flesh so as to have life? Mercifully, God has seen us in our weakness; He gives us real food and real drink and presents it to us in a way we can receive it for our benefit. What the Holy Eucharist is nothing less that what St. Thomas Aquinas said of it: “How holy this feast in which Christ is our food; his passion is recalled; grace fills our hearts; and we receive a pledge of the glory to come.” This is the mystery of Christ’s words: “This is my body, this is my blood.”

Speaking of our weakness, we, humans suffer another basic weakness: time. We are only here but for the briefest of moments. We are here; then we are not. Nothing remains but a corpse and food for the worms. What is to happen to us unhappy men consigned to never seeing Christ face to face as his disciples did? The Holy Eucharist is the re-presentation of this night. Every Mass we come face to face with Jesus Christ our redeemer, and tonight we come to worship Christ and to thank him for this first Eucharist. But I said, face to face. Where do you see him face to face? Unfortunately, you have to see it in mine. Mine is a face made for radio but it is the face of one who lives in the person of Christ the Head. The Sacrament of Holy Orders is intimately tied to the Holy Eucharist. You can’t have one without the other. But when both are present, then ah!, that changes everything. Then because a priest, serving as Christ’s hands, using Christ’s words, wielding God’s grace and power, he can make others reflect the life of Christ. And so we see him face to face tonight; thanks to the Priest and the sacrament he confers, we see Christ in one another.

This last observation brings me to a sad fact. Priesthood is not honored as a vocation, perhaps because marriage is not particularly honored as well. And unfortunately, with the shortage of priests, people suggest silly things like, “maybe we could hire one.” It doesn’t work that way. The priest comes not on the authority of the community. He comes with the authority of Christ who speaks through the Bishop. And frankly I think we don’t have as many priests as we did in the past because we don’t pray for them as we ought. Perhaps, we have grown too cold toward our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to recall that we need a priest for that to happen. After all, no priest means no Eucharist: no Eucharist means no church. Without the sacrifice of the Cross represented to us, how could we even dare claim to be one with the covenant in His Blood? The Eucharist is what we do in memory of Christ, at His command. Let us always be conscious of the preciousness of these twin gifts: priesthood and the Holy Eucharist.

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