Homily for 6th Sunday of Easter
Today we continue thinking about the Mass using the headings of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. The first part of the Mass from the Sign of the Cross to the Prayers of the Faithful we referred to under the heading of a call to faith. Last week we began looking at the second part of the Mass from the Preparation of the Gifts to the Great Amen as the expression of our hope. Today we continue reflecting on this hope in the Eucharistic Prayer.
You remember last week I said that Jesus turned the current Jewish and much of our own idea of holiness upside down. He did this when he said "this is my body", "this is my blood". Death and the corpse are two of the most unclean, unholy things for a Jew requiring purification if you came into contact. So Jesus body had to be buried before the sun went down on Good Friday so the Sabbath could be observed by the disciples. Jesus put his suffering and death at the heart of holiness. At Jesus' death the curtain of the Temple was torn in two we are told in Matthew's Gospel (27:51). In Christ everyone has access to God not just the professional holy people, the High Priests. That, by the way, is one theological reason there are no Altar rails any more. We are all called to holiness. Holiness is not found in one privileged group or place. There is no more Jew and Gentile male and female in Christ. All are given the hope of union with God, tax collector and prostitute, sick and healthy, as well as Pharisee and Scribe. The "holy" is approachable by everyone. "Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness" we say in the Second Eucharistic Prayer.
At the Last Supper, Jesus gave himself to us as food. Food is something that becomes part of us as we consume it. Even in the face of betrayal, denial and desertion by his friends Jesus gives himself as gift to them. In this act he anticipates his suffering and death. He forestalls the betrayal. He removes it's power once and for all. He has given his life to us in the Eucharist in love before it can be taken from him by force. He gives himself into our hands today, we who have our own share of betrayal and denial. He has given us our holiness. And in doing so he has founded a community which can endure in spite of its infidelities.
The Eucharist is all about gift. The transaction between Judas and the Pharisees meant that Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver. Our society tends to reduce everything to a transaction. Everything from sex, a child, a life, to a mobile phone or a car , can be bought and sold for a price. Some sportsmen can think they are entitled to a sex romp after a game because of their celebrity. Even intellectual achievement has become a commodity. There is little room for common wealth any more. The market is everything not just a means to an end.
We Christians also try to bargain with God for salvation. But Jesus threw the marketeers out of the Temple (cf Luke 19:45). We often use the language of the market to describe his sacrifice saying he paid the price of our sins for us. We can use that language up to a point. But Jesus did not pay any price. Rather, he gave freely of himself, unasked by us. The Eucharist says all life and holiness is gift. We have placed the gift of our lives on the Altar with the bread and wine. This symbolizes our sacrificial love. Our gifts are taken up with Jesus and given back to us transformed. Jesus embraces the weak and the sinful and changes us, makes us holy. He goes on to make us his visible, vulnerable presence in the world.
We sometimes see the role of the priest at Mass as an exercise of power to consecrate. We priests often found our dignity, status and power over the laity in that notion. That was not Jesus' idea. His action demonstrated the opposite. He made himself completely vulnerable by giving himself into our hands. Jesus' power is precisely in his powerlessness, most vividly shown when he was nailed to the cross. Yet over the centuries Jesus' disciples are frequently seduced by power. We want to fight the powers of evil with power. We want the Church to reign victorious. We want a Messiah, no less than the Jews of Jesus' day, to rid our world of evil doers. We don't want to be humiliated or crucified. Yet again, that is what we are saying when we approach the Altar with empty hands. We are open to the suffering and death of Jesus finding a home in us.
Jesus words, "This is my Body, This is my Blood given for you", are the basis of all Christian morality. And especially sexual morality. We all relate as sexual beings, even Jesus. Our bodies are the visible expression of the totality of who we are. Jesus gives himself totally to us as gift. So our human relationships are not to be based on a commercial transaction. We make gifts of ourselves to each other in love. So sex cannot be bought or traded, forced or expected. It is that gift of self made tangible. Life being a gift can only be approached with reverence. The commandments "do not kill" and "do not commit adultery" only touch the surface of Christian morality. Jesus words, "This is my body", call us to a greater love than just abstaining from things. "Love one another as I have loved you". "Do this in memory of me." These are his commandments.
When we speak of Jesus real presence in the Eucharist we are not simply saying he is sitting on the altar in front of us. His presence is an active loving one. It is the pledge of his saving love at work in us. His prayer to the Father on the cross has become our prayer here and now. This is the hope which sustains us. This is why we return each week to Mass. Because Jesus' prayer has been heard by the Father. You are invited to pray that "our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father," as we begin the Eucharistic Prayer. It is our lives with Jesus that we are offering. And we do it, as we say at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer in union with Mary and all the saints in the doxology: "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit." So we then say "Amen."
Next week we look at the Rite of Communion, from the Lord's Prayer to the Dismissal, under the heading of a celebration of love.