Here's tonight's homily for Holy Thursday ... and I absolutely love this icon (never seen it before; just now found it) that brings out the Calvary on the Altar theme that von Schenk drives home!
“Calvary Brought Down to Today”
Holy (Maundy) Thursday
Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-32; John 13:1-15, 34-35
We have left the season of Lent, and now we enter the “Holy Triduum” – the Holy Three Days. The season of Lent has prepared us for this most sacred time by drawing us to our Baptism and by reminding us of the real, spiritual battles we wage against our own sin, our own fallen flesh, the fallen world, and the devil himself. Lent has prepared us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Now we stand at Calvary’s holy mountain to do just that.
Our first reading reminds us of the Passover sacrifice and meal. For any other people, it looked like any other kind of meal. But for Israel, the people of God, it was their meal of deliverance. Sacrifice a lamb, smear its blood on the doorposts, roast and eat that lamb, and off they went – out of slavery and into freedom. Talk about a colossal “eat and run”! But it was God’s way of delivering His people. It was God’s way of preparing them for the greater Lamb who would take on human flesh and blood and take away the sin of the world.
In our second reading we hear how the Old Testament Passover becomes our New Testament Passover. We too have a sacrifice and a meal that sets us free. To folks outside the Church, it looks like a pretty poor meal indeed – only a little bite of bread and a small sip of wine. But to God’s redeemed people, to us, it is our Lord’s Meal of deliverance – freeing us from our own sin, our own fallen flesh, our fallen world, and even from Satan himself. And all of this because of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You see, He was sacrificed and roasted on the Cross; His blood was smeared on the doorposts of the Cross. And off we go, out of slavery in our sin and death and into the freedom of forgiveness and the light of God’s life.
Then, in our Gospel reading, we hear of the great love of our Savior Jesus Christ. It happened in the hustle and bustle of celebrating the Passover meal. Jesus took off His outer garment and wrapped Himself with a towel. He poured water into a basin and got down on His hands and knees to wash His disciples’ calloused, sweaty, dirt encrusted feet. What great love! What great sacrifice! And then our Lord gave His new commandment: “that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
All three of these things converge into one in these Holy Three Days. The Passover sacrifice and deliverance; our Lord’s Meal of Body and Blood for forgiveness and life; and our Lord’s command to love one another with the sacrifice of oneself: they all combine into what one pastor once called “the Calvary Love.” Let’s listen to Pastor Berthold von Schenk (The Presence, pp. 88-92).
Mark well this amazing situation. Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Altar in the city of Jerusalem at the time of the great feast. What was uppermost in the mind of the people in Jerusalem? Was it not fundamentally the idea of sacrifice? That is the word which echoed and re-echoed through the streets.
It is before the final sacrifice, the culmination of all sacrifices, that Jesus says: “This is My Body, given for you.” Then He speaks these important words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Sacrificial words in a sacrificial setting, at a sacrificial moment. There can be no doubt that when Jesus instituted the Sacrament He associated it with the sacrifice of the Cross.
Now listen to Paul again, “As often as ye do this, ye do show forth the Lords death till He come.” Holy Communion and Calvary are always linked together. We cannot add to Calvary. We cannot repeat it. How then, is our Communion related to the Sacrifice of the Cross? We can get some help by taking note of the Jewish sacrifice. There were three parts. As in the Jewish Temple sacrifices there was the presentation of the victim, the slaying of the victim, and the taking of blood into the Holy of Holies, so in Christ these all were fulfilled.
At Bethlehem the Lamb was presented
At Calvary the Lamb was slain.
At the Ascension the Lamb ascended into the veil and now has our High Priest and Advocate presents forever the sacrifice once offered upon the Cross.
Calvary, then, is now in Heaven, an eternal fact, where the Master Himself, in His risen and glorified Body, with His wounds shining more brilliant than all created light, obtains mercy for you and for me. And the Altar?—Here we have under the veils of bread and wine, the same Body once crucified, now risen and glorified. And in Communion, as nowhere else, the believer is caught up in this great continual act, this timeless offering of the one sacrifice on the Cross.
The Church on earth and the Church in heaven is one Church. It cannot be broken up. The Body of Christ cannot be torn asunder. On the Cross the sacrifice was perfectly offered. Now our Lord continually pleads this sacrifice. At the Altar the Christian Church pleads the same offering which our Lord is continually offering in heaven, only now under the veils of bread and wine.
Remember, there are not two sacrifices. There is one sacrifice, the same sacrifice, in one Church, presented and pleaded before the Father. The sacrifice of Christ cannot be divided into two parts. Therefore, at the Altar we touch Calvary. The same Body which was offered then is present at the Altar; and every time I communicate I show forth His death, the same death. I link myself to it, and Calvary becomes a reality. At Communion we are actually on the mount called Calvary. We see it all. Some of us stand, as did John, in mystified wonder; others, like Mary, in love and tears; some, like the soldiers; and others, still, like the Centurian [sic], and say: “Surely, this is the Son of God.” The Lord’s Supper is not the symbol of the death of Christ, but it is the personal appropriation of the person of Christ in His death. The Communicant takes the crucified Saviour into Himself as the bread and wine serve as carriers…. This is what Paul meant when he said: “Is it not the Communion of the Blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10).
The whole sacrifice of Calvary is focused to a point at the Altar. It is brought home and made a reality as I kneel to receive the true Body and Blood given and shed for me. Then it was offered on the Cross, now, in heaven triumphant—through the bread and wine. Here I truly touch Calvary, which is now being pleaded by my High Priest. Here I find the secret whereby I can touch my God, the secret whereby divine love can also be born in me and thus radiate through me into the lives of my fellow-men.
Here at the Altar I find love. Here, as I touch Calvary and the pure love of Golgotha radiates in and through me, I can say, “Take me, Lord Jesus. Take also my body, which I am willing to break for Thee; take also my blood which I am willing to shed for Thee. I offer my whole life to Thee through Thy dear life by which alone I can be saved, by which alone I can help bring to salvation my wife, my children, my home, my friends.”
At the Altar is the cresset where we get our fire of the Calvary Love. How this love is needed! We have lost much of it. We have to invent all kinds of methods to attract the people. We must advertise, we must entertain. Why? Because the Church has lost its way to the Altar it has also lost its way into the heart of the world. For the pure love of Calvary alone can save the world. It is that love for which the world is aching. But we must first recapture it ourselves.
Let us find the reality of Calvary, of love, by the way of the Altar. There we can again touch the wounds of Christ; and by touching the wounds of Christ, we shall touch the wounds of the world.
May God grant us a joyous celebration of these Holy Three Days as we find Calvary brought down to today at the Altar. In the name of the Father, and of the X Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.