Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Do You Realize What I Have Done For You?"

Homily from Holy Thursday - Year B

Today is the best day of the year... thus far.  It's the start of the Triduum.  Tonight, we also commemorate Christ's institution of two sacraments: the Eucharist and Holy Orders.  And it's also opening day for the Cubs and Day One of the Masters.

In today's Gospel Jesus asks the Apostles and us, "Do you realize what I have done for you?"  Sadly, the truth is not everyone does.

Two weeks ago, there was an event held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. called the "Reason Rally."  Billboards around the D.C. area invited non-believers to come to the Mall to celebrate life without God!

One of the speakers was a comedian who openly mocked God in front of about 10,000 people.  "God, if you're there," he shouted, "we're here in Washington.  Come down now.  If you're there, this is a pretty good time to show up.  I'm sure folks here would love it."

Then he turned to the crowd and said, "He never comes down."

As I read his quote, I couldn't help but feel pity and sadness for him.  He doesn't realize what Christ has done for him.

He does not realize that God has indeed come down.  He did so through the Incarnation when the Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh and was born as a tiny, helpless baby and slept in a feeding trough for animals.

In a few moments, we will see a symbol of the humility Christ exemplified in his Incarnation when the priest will take off his garment and wash the feet of twelve of our parishioners just as Christ did on Holy Thursday.  By becoming man, Jesus stripped himself of his divinity and humbled himself, taking the form of a slave.

On that night, Jesus took the feet of his twelve Apostles in his hands and washed them clean, establishing a bond of friendship that is everlasting and, through the Apostles, reaches each of us today.  For Christ laid his hands upon each of those Apostles and they in turn laid their hands upon their successors and they likewise laid hands upon their successors and so on, and so on.  And this laying on of hands, this intimate contact with the living God, has come upon each and every Catholic priest in the world.

At your baptism, a priest laid hands on you.  At your confirmation, the bishop, the successor of the Apostles laid hands on you.  After Mass, through a simple handshake, the priest "lays hands on you."  By this connection through the bishop and priest, the intimate contact of Jesus Christ has travelled 2,000 years through time and halfway around the world to reach you.

And, in actuality, it's not that long of a line of transition.  Christ instituted the Eucharist and Holy Orders 2,000 years ago.  I figure, each bishop probably ordains successor bishops and priests around the age of 50.  That means approximately 400 men stand in in a living chain between Christ and you.  That's probably half the number of people we have here tonight at Mass.  So if I stood here in the middle aisle and touched the first person in the first row, and they in turn touched the person next to them and so on and so on; about as many people between this person in the first row and the last person in the last row are what connects you to Christ though a simple touch.

But Christ desires much more than just a simple "connection."  He desires union with us; communion.  And he does this by giving himself to us through the Eucharist through the hands of the priest.

And let us consider the manner in which Jesus gives himself to us.  What we celebrate here at Mass is so much more than just a mere meal.  We also celebrate a sacrifice.

In the old covenant, the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt by eating the Passover lamb.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant established by Jesus Christ we too are delivered from slavery, slavery to sin, by eating the Passover Lamb of God, Jesus himself.

In the old covenant, the Israelites had to procure for themselves a lamb without blemish.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant, we receive a lamb without blemish, the perfect Christ, in these "holy and unblemished sacrifices... this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim."

In the old covenant, the priests would inspect the lamb to ensure it was without blemish.  In the new and eternal covenant, it was Pontius Pilate who, after interrogating Jesus, said to the Jews, "I find no fault in him."  Pilate has inspected the Lamb of God and found him without blemish, an acceptable sacrifice to God.

In the old covenant, the priests slaughtered the lambs in the temple at the same hour Jesus, in the new and eternal covenant, was seated on the "stone pavement" before Pilate in anticipation of his own slaughtering.

In the old covenant, the Israelites sprinkled the blood of the lamb onto their doorposts and lintel with a hyssop branch.  In the new and eternal covenant, a hyssop branch is used to lift the sponge soaked with vinegar to the lips of the thirsty Christ.

In the old covenant, God instructed Moses that the Israelites should not break any of the lamb's bones.  In the new and eternal covenant, the soldiers were "forbidden" from breaking the leg bones of Jesus, because he had already died; not a bone shall be broken.

In the old covenant, if the Israelites wanted to escape the tenth plague, the angel of death; if they wanted to live, they had to eat the lamb.  Today, in the new and eternal covenant, if we want to live, we have to eat the Lamb.

In the old covenant, the priests would ritually place the sins of the nation onto the head of a goat, a "scapegoat," and they would send that goat out of the city, taking away the sins of the nation.  In the new and eternal covenant, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is sent out of the city of Jerusalem, crucified outside the city walls, and he takes away the sins of the world.

"Behold the Lamb of God.  Behold him who takes away the sins of the world."  Blessed are those who realize what he has done for us.

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