Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Apr. 18, 2019
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “If only I can get through this difficult week!” All too often I worry about dangers and problems that seem almost insurmountable. Perhaps you have had similar experiences. It might be seeing your children or spouse through a difficult illness, or getting through a period of financial hardship, confronting physical dangers, or perhaps undergoing a time of deep unhappiness or even depression.
When we run into life’s difficulties, don’t we look for a “way out”? Aren’t we looking for deliverance from danger, failure, embarrassment, and anguish? Lurking in the background of life’s difficult situations is the certainty that someday we will face life’s greatest enigma, namely, death. When that moment comes, we will also want a “way through” to a new & better life. In a word, we will seek an ultimate deliverance. Reflecting on this common human experience, let us find hope and joy in this Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, for it is all about our deliverance.
The Book of Exodus
The theme of deliverance is evident in tonight’s reading from the Book of Exodus. The people of Israel found themselves reduced to slavery in Egypt. Pharaoh used them as slave labor for his massive building projects and they were forced to live as an underclass in Egyptian society. At length, the Lord heard their cry for deliverance and appointed Moses and Aaron to confront Pharaoh not merely with words but indeed with signs and wonders. Their insistent cry was, “Let my people go!”
To say the least, Pharaoh resisted Moses and Aaron, even in the face of a whole series of plagues which they called down upon Egypt. In the end, the people of Israel were delivered from their condition of slavery by the Paschal Lamb which was slain and whose blood was sprinkled on their doors. When the avenging angel swept across Egypt killing its firstborn, the houses of the Israelites were spared by the blood of the Lamb. They were led forth from Egypt to begin their trek through desert, a period of wandering & suffering that ultimately brought them to the Promised Land. Many fell along the way, some because of infidelity and others because of weariness. Yet, forty years later, God’s People arrived at the land promised to their forebears. This deliverance the Jewish people memorialize, that is to say, re-live, to this very day.
Nonetheless, God’s deliverance of his people from the slavery of Egypt was but a sign of a deeper and more powerful deliverance which he had in mind, not only for the Jewish people but indeed for the whole of humanity. It is not merely from one place to another or from one social condition to another. Rather, it is the ultimate “way out”, the ultimate deliverance from sin and death. To accomplish this deliverance, God the Father sent his only Son who became for us the Lamb of God, He who takes away the sins of the world.
Listen how a 2nd Century Bishop, Melito of Sardis, describes this mystery: “[Jesus] was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, [just] as he ransomed Israel from the land of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, [just] as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh.”
This, in fact, is the mystery that unfolded at the Last Supper. In that sacred meal during which he instituted both the Mass and the Priesthood, Jesus captured for all time the deliverance from sin and death he would win for us by his Cross and Resurrection. For as we read this evening in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, “[Jesus] took bread, after he gave thanks, broke it and said: ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And after supper, he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” In the celebration of the Mass, the Sacrifice of Christ is not merely remembered but is, in fact, renewed and reenacted, as the priest, acting in the Person of Christ, transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Body of Christ broken for our sins and his Blood outpoured brings us deliverance just as the Paschal Lamb brought deliverance to the Chosen People.
Let us listen again to Melito of Sardis: “[Christ] is the one who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny to an eternal kingdom, who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own forever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.”
Dear friends, as we pass through the challenges that life throws at us, dangers, problems, dilemmas, setbacks, doubts, anguish – we need not walk alone. Rather, in the Eucharist, let us walk with the Good Shepherd who accompanies us even as we pass through death’s dark valley. Let us remain with the Good Shepherd, with Jesus, who is also the Lamb of Sacrifice by which our deliverance is won.
To repeat, this is indeed the mystery that we celebrate and reenact in every Mass – the deliverance which Jesus won for us from the powers of evil, from our human weakness and sins, even from the power of death itself. Yet so many people choose to go it alone, to face life’s problems without the Lord. So many absent themselves from the Holy Eucharist on Sunday. Like the people of Israel, some fall away through infidelity and weakness, but still others, alas, have been pushed away through scandal or inhospitality. Let us pray to have the faith of the early Christian martyrs who proclaimed that they could not live without Sunday Eucharist. They could not and neither can we!
Deliverance to What?
As the Lord helps us with the grace of his Eucharist to meet challenge after challenge, where is he leading us? What is our destination, our “promised land”? With every fiber of our being, we hope and pray it is heaven, the heavenly liturgy where before the Holy Trinity the redeemed experience enraptured joy. But what about in the meantime as we make our way through this valley of tears?
In the meantime, Jesus is preparing us for heaven by teaching us to love. In the Gospel, Jesus takes the form of a slave and washes the feet of his apostles. This humble gesture in which Jesus encounters our human uncleanliness signals how, on the Cross he would descend to the depths of human sin and misery and how he would wash us clean in waters of Baptism. In this way, Jesus expresses the self-giving love that would come fully into view as he hung upon the Cross for the salvation of the human race and for each person. When Jesus finished washing the apostles feet, he, their Lord and teacher urged them to follow the example of self-giving love which he had just provided to them. So too, the good fruit of our partaking in Jesus’ unbounded love for us in the Eucharist must be a life marked by humility, reconciliation, and self-giving love, generously and persistently extended to friend and foe alike. Loving in this way is what makes us fit for the promised land of heaven where, in the Holy Spirit, we shall fully share in the presence of God the Father the beatitude, the happiness promised by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let us celebrate this Eucharist in company with Christ and his apostles with deep joy and then let us accompany the Lord to the Garden to watch and pray in his Presence.