holy cross sermon for the eleventh sunday after pentecost, year c, august 4, 2013

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

I have decided to spend a few weeks talking about the mass. This isn’t a hard and fast rule or schedule. We may deviate from the schedule here and there and take it up again later. But I thought it would be useful to spend some time discussing this thing that we do Sunday by Sunday, and indeed day by day; this thing that is arguably the most central fact of our corporate lives as Christians. As I have done in the past, I will be relying heavily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church in these sermons. People have occasionally asked me why I use the Catechism of the Catholic Church and not some comparable Anglican resource. The answer is simple: there is no comparable resource of any sort anywhere. None that I am aware of, anyway. As soon as there is an Anglican resource as comprehensive as the CCC, that engages so assiduously with both Scripture and the teaching of the early Church Fathers, I will be happy to consider using it. Until then, we have the CCC.

The mass has been called many different things in different times and places: the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, the Breaking of Bread, etc. etc. But whatever you call it, there has been through the millennia and throughout the world a remarkable cohesion to its basic structure. It is and always has been simply what we do when they come together, the central element of the corporate life of Christians. And I would just note in passing that there is no such thing as a Christian life that isn’t corporate. To be separated from the Body of Christ is by definition to be dead, with a “forever” kind of deadness.

By contrast, to be alive with a “forever” kind of life means to be united to the Body of Christ, who died, and who rose again on the third day. But to be united to the Body of Christ means to be in the Church, a member of the community of believers. And the mass has been, as I say, from the very beginning, the thing that Christians do together. The thing that constitutes Christians as a Body.

“Do this for the remembrance of me.” The Catechism says:

The command of Jesus to repeat his actions and words “until he comes” does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did. It is directed at the liturgical celebration, by the apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father. (CCC 1341)

And

From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord’s command. Of the Church of Jerusalem it is written: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…. Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.”

It was above all “on the first day of the week,” Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, that the Christians met “to break bread.” Form that time on down to our own day the celebration of the Eucharist has been continued so that today we encounter it everywhere in the Church with the same fundamental structure It remains the center of the Church’s life.

Thus from celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal mystery of Jesus “until he comes,” the pilgrim People of God advances, “following the narrow way of the cross,” toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom. (CCC 1342-1344)

The Church’s perpetual celebration of the Eucharist highlights another facet of life in Christ, namely the Christian’s strange relationship with history and with time itself. We have already seen that the “memorial” character of the mass does not simply mean that it reminds of Jesus and what he did. It is rather more than that: it is a re-presentation of Jesus’ life, a re-presentation of him; a way for us now to participate in his actions then, and so the Eucharist is a way – THE WAY – for us really to be affected and transformed by Jesus, who is alive.

But not only does Jesus, at the Last Supper and on the cross, thus reach forward into time and gather us, by means of our participation in the Eucharist, to himself and into his saving action; but he also reaches backward into time and gathers Israel, by means of Israel’s participation in the Passover. And this paratemporal confluence of the Passover and the Eucharist – of Israel and of the Gentiles, and so of the whole world蜉 – this confluence occurs at the events of Holy Week, and among them preeminently, as I have said, at the Last Supper and on the cross.

By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom. (CCC 1340)

From the time of the Mosaic law, the People of God have observed…the Passover, to commemorate the astonishing actions of the Savior God, to give him thanks for them, to perpetuate their remembrance, and to teach new generations to conform their conduct to them. In the age of the Church, between the Passover of Christ already accomplished once for all, and its consummation in the kingdom of God, the liturgy… bears the imprint of the newness of the mystery of Christ. (CCC 1164)

As we “do this” in remembrance of Jesus this morning, and in obedience to his command, I encourage you to consider these things. Look behind the curtain of appearances with the eyes of your faithful heart, and consider the Reality into which you are being caught-up by means of this Eucharist.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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