Holy Thursday Homily (longer blog version)

It’s the Year of Grace, and we’ve been talking of the various ways God showers His favor upon us.   The Grace of God can certainly be noticed in the blessings of Jesus’ New Passover Covenant of Eucharist and how it is shared via Holy Orders for His Church.

Two of the things that’s so important about Holy Thursday is that it’s the Fulfillment Day of the Passover by God from the old covenants to the Jews into the new one of Jesus, AND, that it’s the Institution Day of the Catholic Priesthood.   When Jesus gathered His apostles and said over the bread and wine “This is My Body…this is My Blood… (and then gave it to them to receive), He then said:  (From this time on) “Do this in Memory of Me.”  Here He commissioned them to “do this” that is, be His priestly vessels to share HIS High Priestly Gifts to the Church, His own Body and Blood, His very Self.

God’s Son Jesus gave fully of Himself on Holy Thursday and into Good Friday, and the same Gift is passed onto The Church, God’s people.  Jesus gives and still says “take…receive….Me.”   We have a new covenant in Jesus’ Body and Blood, and we have priests to serve the High Priest in continuing on this special participation in His Offering.  Jesus says “I AM Eucharist–even in His words–I AM the Bread of Life.” These apostles He chose were thus charged with the sacerdotal ministry (to be priests) beginning on Holy Thursday, and they were to pray Holy Mass in His Name and Person for Him, as priests serving The Priest.   Once Jesus returned to reign in Glory and gave us His Spirit, this priesthood was put into work.   The Holy Mass was to be the main ministry for them to do in “Holy Orders.”  Teaching was important of them too in their commission.  Tonight, we recall that original vocation started for Jesus’ purposes.   This night is the anniversary of the priesthood Jesus shared with His body of believers, the Church.  We are nearing the 2000th anniversary of it, from 33a.d to 2017a.d.

On that Thursday of the Jewish Passover in Jerusalem, about 1984 years ago, Jesus was really there in an Upper Room giving up His Body and His Blood for the salvation of the world.   His Last Supper was to be the New Passover, whereby His Body would be our ransom and sacrifice for sins, and His Blood would then be our pardon and our Passover from death.  The action of this Last Supper into the action of His Cross at Calvary would be all the same Offering, and Altar, and Victim.   It is why the Church’s Liturgy tonight doesn’t have an ending, but is picked up tomorrow in the Good Friday Liturgy.   Just like the Last Supper led along to the Cross—it was all one action.  For Jesus, that was all evident, in that it was an overnight in which Jesus never slept, until His human ‘sleep’ into death on Golgotha’s Crossbeam.

This Great Offering of Jesus, as the conclusion of His Man of Galilee earthly ministry, was purposefully done as The Main Event of the Savior, on that Jewish Passover.  It was done there to become the New Covenant Passover in Jesus’ Name.  Jesus told them to “do this in memory of Me.”  His parting Gift was Himself, and this Last Supper Gift was the Mass continued into the Church, to receive in Sacrament His Body and Blood. This Main Event Pasch of Jesus, on that original Holy Thursday, had the elements of the Pasch of the Jews, but with updates of fulfillment in Him, the Son of God.  For example, now the bitter herb would be Jesus’ suffering or Passion, the story to be told would now be changed from what Moses did to what Jesus accomplished, the unleavened bread for the journey out of Egypt and the mystery manna bread was to now be given as the Body of Jesus, His Real flesh for the life of the world (as John 6 puts it–for Jesus said: “I AM the Bread of life).”  The blood on the doorpost of the Exodus, that saved those Jews who put it obediently over their entranceways, was now the Blood of the Lamb, The Lamb of God, Jesus, who saves us who obediently receive Him into our being.   And so many other connections were made—for Jesus to now offer a Paschal Mystery.  (Recommendation:  Read Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Last Supper.”)

Jesus, the Eternal High Priest, commissioned priests to serve the Paschal Mystery, particularly in service of the Holy Mass.  If you peruse the latter part of the Bible book of Hebrews, you can see how it was all written and explained by that Bible author, who saw Jesus primarily as the High Priest, come down from Heaven, to author a way for us to participate in salvation by Him, and to have Him as our holy mediator to God.

I mentioned the term Paschal Mystery…you recall what it is, right?  We have had a whole preaching series on the Pascal Mystery not so many months ago here—it is the Mystery we celebrate of salvation by Christ’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and the hopeful promise that comes in participating in it, which is Glory—life with God forever.

The simple Mystery of Faith formula can be remembered as the one we often sang in churches, as a song:  “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”  Meaning:  Christ to our past, Christ to our Present, Christ to what is yet to come.

Or, better, stated biblically, as St. John records in Revelation, we celebrate our Jesus as The One “Who Is, Who Was, And Who Is To Come.”  John starts out His apocalyptic book with Jesus as Priest and Paschal Mystery.  Rev. 1:8 says (as on Jesus lips, reigning in Heaven): “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, Who is and Who was and Who is to come.”

Catholic priests know something of this three-fold identity of Jesus the Priest and Pascal Mystery.  I will briefly tell you of Jesus Who Is, Who Was, and Who Is To Come.

Jesus Who Is. He is the Priest Forever, every making intercession for His people.    Cardinal Wuerl was talking about this in his Chrism Mass at the Cathedral on Monday.   Jesus lives.  He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, which is the great prophet Isaiah’s view of the Christ. Jesus says “I Am with you always, even to the end of the age.”   One sure way He is– the Eucharist– is supplied for the Church’s whole journey, providing the people of God discern their priest vocations to serve her, and have them pray their Masses.  Please pray tonight on how you may support priestly vocations.  We need to find them and support them.

Jesus Who Is.  In a new book by N.T. Wright about Good Friday, he says that this Day of Christ’ Death (and its Holy Thursday lead-in) should be seen as a new starting point, as in Jesus as Alpha, and Wright say for too long some churches have seen the Crucifixion as just one day of wrath, when God took out His anger about sin, and had Jesus punished for us, to take our sins.   But that punishing definition is off, because then it leaves the Cross only as a past event, as if the Friday of Jesus Crucifixion was for wrath, and then an ending.  A closed event.   Yet read all of Revelation or the Book of Hebrews, and one can find how Jesus lives as Priest to keep on making intercession, and He can re-present His Sacrifice as He likes, without it being changed or having Jesus be re-crucified.  (As people crazily and wrongly claim of Catholics doing.)   Jesus is still seen as Lamb in a present tense in Revelation, as well as a future tense.   Because Jesus must be a present Lord, not only a past one.

Speaking of the past, Jesus did come into time and offer His life.   There was a definite day of Crucifixion for Jesus.   Jesus is the God who was—too.  We remember precisely the day He committed Himself to the Sacrifice, as on Holy Thursday He said:   “Would that I could pass from drinking this cup of suffering, yet, not as I will, but as You will, Father.”  Jesus chose to die for us, carrying out His destiny to be Yeshua–the God Who Saves.  He came and on that Cross could even offer up in Himself the sins to all the people in the past centuries and millennia who had sinned.   His offer at the Cross would be able to go way back into the past–even to the original sin.    We remember that in the Eucharist prayer at Mass.  Jesus died for us.  (Fact.  Historical Event.)

Who Is To Come.  Jesus’ offering also could go far into the future, for to give Mercy to the modern world of sinners, too, like ourselves.  Even from nearly 2 millennia ago, and 5892 miles away from here, on the other side of the planet.  He wanted to bless us in His Mercy and Peace and lead us to eternal life.  And His Love outpouring reached us.  And where are we headed?   We are headed to Glory.    Jesus said of Himself, that He is Who is, Who was, and Who is to come.    The Holy Mass is a prayer for preparation for His coming.  We await Him in a holy worship in His Body and Blood.   How more personal can a holy waiting for His Glory Arrival be?   St. Paul said of the Mass:  “We proclaim the Lord’s Death (Sacrifice) until He comes again (in Glorious appearance to us). ” When we get to Heaven, what will we do?  Worship Him.  So, we get started here, even in Jesus’ Body and Blood.

I tell you all of this because priests know these things of the Priesthood of Jesus and of the Pascal Mystery.   We also know why Scriptures like Revelation was written.  It is a letter by John to his churches (7 in Asia Minor) about how he sees a Heavenly Liturgy going on (via visions he received from Jesus) and how John urges the churches to have earthly Masses mirror the One above, celebrated in the same Lord Jesus among them on earth (as Sacrament).   This life in Sacraments (such as by Holy Mass) was to upbuild their ongoing relationship to God as His people in Christ.   Yes, take note, Jesus is speaking as the Book of Revelation starts, Who says He is the I AM–  the source of everything.   He is The One who first spoke to Moses with that title, and the one to institute a priesthood, even via Aaron, Moses’ brother, to celebrate the Sinai covenant He had made, and Jesus was also around in the bread and wine covenant with Abraham and Melchizedek the priest atop this very Jerusalem city.  Jesus speaks now in victory from Heaven of the New Covenant He has accomplished.  He speaks to one of his first priests, John, in this amazing revelation.   John the Apostle knows Jesus as “Priest.   Jesus is the One Who, as Priest and Perfectly Holy High Priest, did institute a New Covenant priesthood to serve His purposes for the Church.  John was there in the Upper Room when it was inaugurated– Passover Day.  John was now living the Mass as he wrote this letter.  He reminds us how Jesus, the Alpha, the new beginning, wanted to use priests them to lead His people in salvation to the Omega point, the life of living forever.  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, Who is and Who was and Who is to come.”

Oh my, I could go on…. but let’s end on a personal reflection.

Have you had some real memorable Masses in your life?   I have.   I’ve been a lifelong Catholic.   I can remember school Masses in St. Joseph’s School in Penfield, New York in my third grade year, when excitedly, I could receive Holy Communion with my class at Mass.    I can remember six years after that when I was in a Mass with Bishop Hermann over at St. Pius X Bowie with a big Confirmation class.   I remember being given the Sacrament by him, under the patronage of St. Anthony, and I remember it being a windy afternoon outside, like it suddenly was Pentecost or something.

I can also remember being in college Masses with my buddies at Ohio U. or University of Maryland.   I had many enjoyable ones there.  I had a Mass on a Sunday at St. Pius one Sunday night on the Feast of St. Augustine where God really touched me.  It would lead me to a deeper commitment to Jesus, eventually leading me to be called to seminary and priesthood.  Seminary Masses were quite edifying, like my first Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday as a twenty-six-year old in a Cleveland seminary was so great.  It was quite dynamic and faith-deepening.   Jesus is clearly leading every Holy Mass.  Priests are instruments of His choice to do what He wants for His Church.

Then as a priest, there have been too many amazing Masses to try to single certain ones out.   Well, how about just one.  Down in one parish assignment in Leonardtown on a Holy Thursday, I recall a parish woman named Grace, who really lived out her faith, by the grace of God.   I would tease her– “you are the Grace of God in our midst.”   She so loved the Lord and the Sacred Liturgy.  She was on cloud nine on that Holy Thursday.  She came back on Good Friday to pray the Stations, and after the 14th one, she died.  She literally went on to the 15th station on her own, the Resurrection, as Mary Magdalene sees Jesus.   Well, Grace saw Jesus in person one Good Friday ago.  As she did the stations so prayerfully, I suppose He could not be without her another moment, so much did Our Lord love her.   Grace’s funeral Mass filled the parish church in an Easter octave weekday following.  You know, all through this Year of Grace, I keep thinking of her.

Lastly, there are many, many very nice liturgies that have occurred here in St. Edward.   Maybe this very evening I could also single this Mass out, for it is the ninth Holy Thursday I’ve had here, to celebrate back in my home town another anniversary of the priesthood day.   That’s special to me.   It is good to be here!   As Psalm 133:1 says:  “Behold, how good and pleasant it is, for brethren to gather in unity.”  That’s how I feel tonight.  Or as the Psalm line in Hebrews goes:  “Hinneh mah tov u mah nahim, sebet ahim gam yahad!”

So it’s the New Passover and with the Holy Orders in the priesthood serving Jesus by it.   It’s so good!

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