Sunday of the Body and Blood of Christ 6-3-18
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-18;Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-26
In the largest sense of human history, the Solemnity we celebrate today is the story of God’s relationship with all of creation; an intimate relationship of The Creator with the creation. Without the soil and the sun and the rain, the plants do not grow, and there is no food. Without food, there are no animals. Without God, nothing exists. It is a good day to pause and remember our interrelationship and the necessary balances God established in creation to sustain life.
But meditating on the largest sense of human history can make us feel tiny, and we can feel too tiny to think about the enormity of it all. So, perhaps it is well to focus on the small parts of creation at a level where we can better grasp ideas that seem to impact our lives more personally.
Our reading from Exodus is about Moses sprinkling the blood of animals which have been sacrificed as peace offerings to God. Moses sprinkles the blood on the altar, as our rituals might have us incense the altar. Then there is a reading of the covenant with God, and the people renew their vows to be God’s People and obey the commandments God has given them, just we renew our baptismal promises on Easter.
Then Moses sprinkles blood on the people, just as we sprinkle the water of baptism. But there is another side to this idea. Our Eucharist speaks of “the cup of my blood”, the blood of Jesus which is shed for all so that sins are forgiven. Today we have dozens of laundry products specially designed to remove stains. Blood and wine are always first on the list of difficult stains to remove. It is a startling idea that the blood of Jesus should not stain us and ruin us, but instead washes us clean of sin, removes all guilt and eliminates the need for punishment, allowing us to live eternally with God.
Our Psalm speaks of the “cup of salvation”. This Psalm could have been written by a contemporary Christian poet. We take up the communion cup of salvation, calling on the name of the Lord, who has freed us from evil, selfishness and sin. We remember our vows to God. In order to give thanks to God, we must sacrifice our overinflated egos and all our “dead works”, as our 2nd reading calls our behaviors such as attempting to reduce God to an hour on Sunday.
So, like the early Christians, we experience the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass as a sacrament, meaning an effective sign of grace, which works to give us divine life through the Holy Spirit. How did that look just after the first Pentecost? Well, in Acts 2:42 we find that (Christians) “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The identity of Christians, then, was formed in unity, unity in belief and charity, both of which were founded in Eucharist, centered in thanksgiving for the gifts of Christ’s body and blood.
Some twenty years after Pentecost, The Church in Antioch left us a manual of liturgical prayers which we call the “Didache”, Greek for teaching. In about the year 100, Pope Clement wrote a letter to the church at Corinth, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might!” Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the church to “Confess the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.” In about the 150’s Justin Martyr wrote a detailed description of the Mass as it was celebrated in Rome. We have historical evidence of the Mass in letters & prayers.
What was the impact of this Mass on the early church? The church had a growth rate estimated at 40% per decade, and by the middle of the 4th century, there were 33 million Christians in an Empire of 60 million people. The Church Fathers quoted Malachi 1:11, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, with a pure offering” – as to say that always and everywhere in the Empire, the Mass was offered.
By then the Mass was called, “the Breaking of the Bread”, “the (once-for-all) Sacrifice”, “the Liturgy”, “the Mysteries”, “the Table of the Lord”, “the Lord’s Supper”, “the Altar”, and “the Communion.” But “the Eucharist” won out, because it was the Greek word for giving thanks, and Mark 14:23, Matthew 26:27, Luke 22:17, and 1 Corinthians 11:24 all used that word. Although great care was taken to keep the liturgy within Christian tradition, the spread of the Gospel from place to place included new and local ways to express worship, but the Words of Institution as found in 1 Corinthians 11 were kept intact. (“On the night when he was betrayed, he took bread and when he had given thanks; he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me…” Likewise the cup..)
We keep these words because Jesus commanded us to do so at a most solemn moment anticipating his death. St. Paul emphasized that this action is at the center of the church. The cup “is the new covenant in my blood.” Thus, all the subsequent generations have meticulously preserved the Lord’s words and actions as precious and divine. The many ways that the Christian liturgy shares the prayers of our Jewish brothers and sisters is a fascinating study all by itself.
For early Christians, Mass was the meeting of heaven and earth. But the Mass was also preached as the unifying power of the church. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor 10:17). Ignatius wrote, “For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to show forth the unity of His blood.” Great reverence and care were taken with the elements, which were regarded as more precious than gold or jewels. Likewise, clergy were to give careful attention to the worlds of the liturgy, and great emphasis was placed on John 6:51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, they will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Finally, the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Christ when he opened the Scriptures for them, but rather in the breaking of the bread. In the same way, many millions of people have come to know Jesus after he ascended to heaven. It reminds me of a quote from Pope Benedict XVI – “Evangelization is…the opening of the heart…(we are) agents of the Holy Spirit helping people have a profound experience of Jesus’ love…a love that opens them to the Word of God and the sacraments…”
We have here a sacrament of depth beyond our imaging, a sacrament which has roots in the earliest moments of creation. We have a liturgy for this sacrament which opens the hearts of people to God with the same power that it did centuries ago. We have words and actions which we share with those who have gone before us and which we are responsible for passing on to those who come after us. May the Holy Spirit lead us in this journey, may you find the fullness of God’s mercy and grace, and may Jesus remain in you as you partake from his table.
It seems throughout all history, human beings always had a sense of a higher power or God or gods to whom they offered worship and sacrifice, especially so that they would have good times in their lives. They would offer up first crops or a lamb or a calf or something of value to them. Sacrifice of animals was common, and was done by the Jews also. In those past times, we must remember that they saw blood as the center and soul of life as without it nothing could live. That is why our first reading is so graphic with Moses taking bowls of blood from the young bulls offered up and splashing half on the altar representing the invisible God and sprinkled the other half on the people .That act was to seal the special bond God had with his people. As you can imagine, sacrificing of animals was a messy thin with he blood and slaughtering of animals.
This brings us to the Last Supper and Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples. He was well aware that this was his last meal and time with his disciples, and knowing that he was about to die and be the one true sacrifice and offering to God in and everlasting covenant, As the Divine and human sacrifice, he gave for all to come a way to share in the sacrifice of his death and resurrection by giving them His Body and His Blood in the form of bread and wine. All generations to come, have the Eucharist as a sign of the covenant sealed and given by Christ. To eat his body and drink his blood might sound strange to some, but it a special food for the journey we all undertake in life and it is nourishment that joins us with the Father and enlivens our life with the Holy Spirit. It unites us all to one another and hopefully leads us to share the love that God has given and continues with the Eucharist and the sacraments. All of our works and sharing should proclaim God’s love and the acclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’
Holy Trinity Sunday, 5-27-18
Deuteronomy 4:32-40, Psalm 33, Romans 8:14-17, Matthew 28: 16-20
We’ll start with a little background for our first reading. Josiah (Joe-zi-ah) became king of Israel about 600 years before Christ. He took the throne when he was only 8 years old, after a series of wicked kings who had turned their backs on God. But Josiah led the people back to worshiping God. The Temple in Jerusalem had been allowed to fall into disrepair, so he began renovations. During the work, a “book” (scrolls) of the laws of Moses was found. (2 Kings 22) That “book”, according to Tradition, was the Book of Deuteronomy, from which our first reading is taken.
Deuteronomy is a series of three speeches by Moses, and ends with the death of Moses. In essence, this book records Moses’ last words. The speeches not only repeat the Covenant that the Israelites had with God, but they interpret it in more contemporary terms. Our reading today is the end of the 1st speech. The question Moses puts to the people is this: “Do you realize how great God is?” He reminds the people that God created the entire world, including us – all human-kind. No one else had ever claimed that their God had spoken to them. No other god had claimed their nation for his own, had done wonders and miracles, and had protected that nation by military might, defeating a large nation like Egypt to bring the people out of slavery.
Moses also told the people that all this evidence demands that people must obey God’s commandments and keep God’s laws which will enable them to live a long and prosperous life. Our Psalm gives us the same message in a poetic way: “By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made…the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear him…to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.”
There was one problem with all this – the Israelites came to believe that they were the “Chosen People” and that God would always protect them and provide for them, however faithful or unfaithful they were to God. This was despite the clear instruction by Moses that when people are not faithful to God, they break the covenant, thereby removing themselves from God’s protection. It was Jesus who came to resolve this constant breaking of the covenant, when he said, “…this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.”
Our 2nd reading speaks of the Spirit of God leading the sons and daughters of God. God’s spirit is not one of oppression or fear. Instead the image used is one of God “adopting” us. Each of us then enters the inner circle of family, enjoying the highest level of love and protection; we are raised as the siblings of Jesus. The Holy Spirit assures us with this beautiful image of close and enduring relationship with God.
Finally our Gospel is the last paragraph of the Gospel of Matthew, and gives us the final words of Jesus. Notice the similarity to our first reading, which records the final words of Moses. Following ancient tradition, the last recorded words of a famous person or a great leader summarize the goals of their lives, and leave important and final advice for their followers. Our Biblical authors use the same tradition.
So Matthew writes that Jesus’ last words were words of assurance: “I am with you always…” But some people may be amazed at the other thing Jesus emphasizes. “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me”, he says. All right, that fits with our understanding of the Risen Christ. But what are we supposed to do with that information? Well, we are to make sure everyone knows it; we are to teach it; and we are to share all of Jesus’ teachings. “GO, therefore,” says Jesus, “And make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
It’s one thing if you view this as some kind of abstract statement of doctrine, something that someone else is responsible for. “Let someone else do it,” we think. We put a $20 check in the mail and let some overseas mission team help the Christians in Palestine or Pakistan or Puerto Rico.
It’s something very different if we understand that Jesus was speaking to us. In a 4-mile radius circle of where we are sitting right this moment are thousands of people, and I can assure you that there are lots people who have never heard the teachings of Jesus, nor been baptized, nor know that God loves them. I have every reason to believe that Jesus was speaking to us, personally, calling us to action, expecting us to look outward to our neighbors. This interpretation is supported by the parable of the Good Samaritan (who is my neighbor?) and the parable of the talents (if we fail to invest in God’s Kingdom, we stand to lose what little we have!). Pope Paul VI made it clear when he proclaimed, “Evangelization is in fact…the church’s deepest identity. The church exists in order to evangelize.” Pope Benedict told us we are… “Agents of the Holy Spirit helping people have a profound experience of Jesus’ love…a love that opens them to the Word of God and the sacraments.”
So Moses urgently begged us to view God as the Creator of our world and of life itself. In turn, we are to love God and willingly follow the path, the guidance, and the life style God has shown us. The result is a close and deep relationship with God. The Spirit brings enduring love to us that can never be broken or stolen from us. And Jesus is with us always, helping us make sure that all our neighbors join in this love and intimacy of family. It is a view of the universe which far exceeds all our prayers and longings – but it must start by our action, our reaching out, our sharing of the faith and the joy that God brings us.
Pentecost May 20, 2018
Acts 2:1-11; Psalms 104; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 15:26-27, 16:12-15
This is probably my favorite Sunday of the year. That may seem like a strange thing to say, given most people would choose Christmas or Easter. But when you think about it, Christmas is the birth of Jesus, the joyful day we celebrate that God came to earth to be with us. And Pentecost is the day that the Holy Spirit came to be with us on earth.
So why did the Holy Spirit come and what does the Holy Spirit do? Good questions!
Jesus says that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and that the Spirit comes to us personally to tell us the truth. The Holy Spirit is the “Advocate”. That title gives us some clues of what the Spirit does. An advocate is a supporter or defender. When we are having a difficult time, it’s really good to have a supporter. A supporter tells you the truth about how you’re doing. A supporter says things like, “That was really good. Your hard work is really paying off and you’re really improving.” A defender says things like, “Don’t worry about someone laughing at you. You’re doing the right thing. I will stand with you no matter what.” We all need supporters and defenders in our life.
An advocate also does things like ask if we can have a second chance to do something. An advocate really believes that we can learn to do things right after we have made a mess of something. An Advocate prays and intercedes for us.
Let’s look more closely at our Gospel. Jesus says that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” This is not to be confused with the theology of our Apostle’s Creed. The point of what he is saying here is that the disciples… and all Christians… need the help of the Spirit as we share the Gospel in the world around us. The Spirit “will testify” the truth to Jesus, and the disciples “will (also) testify” the truth to everyone around them – because they had heard the truth directly from Jesus all the time they had been with him. We then carry that Truth forward, generation to generation. WE can testify/ give witness/ share this truth because the Spirit is sent to us to personally tell us the Truth.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus says, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” The image that comes to mind is one of being in court on the witness stand, having sworn on the Bible to tell the truth. We live in the “court” of the world, where we are witnesses about the Truth of Jesus. We can do this with confidence only because we have the assurance that the Spirit does not speak on its own. What the Spirit speaks is exactly what the Creator has spoken.
When Jesus tells us that the Spirit “will declare to you the things that are coming,” he is telling us in yet another way that the truth the Spirit tells us is from God. There are many verses in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 46:9, which state that only God can declare the future. Declaring things to come is not a privilege that false gods have. An example is the dream Joseph had to take Mary and the Christ child to Egypt; God knew that Bethlehem would not be a safe place for them in the near future.
Jesus really presses this all home as he prepares to leave his disciples. It would be normal and natural if we felt we could not possibly understand everything we need to know to share the Truth of God fully and correctly. And Jesus assured the disciples, that there was more to know; he said, (there is) “much more” or “still many things” to learn, and we are just not able to learn it all at once. That is why the Spirit stays with us, to guide us along the “way of truth”, reminding us that Jesus told us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
We cannot begin to understand or even image all that Jesus did for us, until we live our lives, mature, experience many things, pray, and study the scriptures. As we grow in our faith, we grow in our ability to understand what seemed impossible when we were children or new in the faith. “I have more to tell you” is a promise that we will have a deeper and fuller faith as time passes. The things we cannot accept at one time are the things we may find to be a source of real consolation later. God knows and has always known all truth; we struggle to grasp truth by bits and pieces at a time. The Spirit is there to give us the precise truth we need at the moment we need it. We might think of it in terms of always being fed the ideal food our bodies need in the exact way we will most enjoy at every single meal.
Then Jesus says, “(The Spirit) will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it you. I get confused when I read that. When we glorify someone, we given them honor or high praise; it also means to worship someone as greater than ourselves. We make clear our praise by doing something people can hear or see, like clapping our hands or bowing, by giving our very best things as a gift. We glorify God when we worship, by kneeling or bowing or giving thanks, and also by sharing what we believe with other people and encouraging them to glorify God. Likewise, the Spirit glorifies Christ by sharing with us the truth that we in turn share with our neighbors. It becomes, not a duty or a burden, but a great honor and a privilege to be able to share the faith.
And this completes a pattern we have seen over the last three weeks. 2 weeks ago we talked about being chosen by God and remaining in Jesus. Last week we read that as Jesus ascended, he told us to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” Now, Jesus sends us the Spirit from God to better enable us to awaken our neighbors that they too have been chosen. The Spirit remains with us so that we might grow in awareness of the teachings of Jesus and the fullness of truth in God. In turn, we honor God as the Spirit honors Jesus.
May the truth which the Spirit speaks to you fill you with joy.