HOMILY – MAY 29
It’s really nothing short of astounding when you consider that the Protestant Reformation took the central act of Christian worship, something that Christ’s followers had all been doing regularly since Jesus told us, “Do this in memory of me” — and threw it out. Fifteen hundred years of Christian worship, rejected in the course of a very few years! One could better understand if the reformers had clamored for a deeper popular UNDERSTANDING of the Eucharist, if they had demanded that priests be better instructed how to reverently celebrate the Mass, if the Church had addressed the abuses of the Mass that were rampant at the time. And, as a matter of fact, the Church DID respond to the Reformation by seeing to ALL those things! But by the time it happened, several decades had passed, the seeds of division had produced trees of hatred rooted in the cement of anger and bitterness. And, even more deadly, the politics of Europe had fostered the divisions of Christianity for political advantage, actively encouraging false teachings as emperors had done with the Arian heresies over a thousand years earlier.
This is certainly not to imply that the Catholic Church was without fault. As we said, abuses had been rampant for a long time. Disgracefully hurried and irreverent celebrations of the Mass were commonplace. It took the ghastly divisions of the Reformation to call the Church to a sobriety for which it had been unwilling to aim without first hitting rock bottom. As the years turned into decades, and decades into centuries, divisions hardened. All manner of accusations were leveled at a Catholic Church which did not and does not resemble the descriptions of its accusers. “CHRISTIANS believe in the Bible,” some will proclaim, “while CATHOLICS do not.” All one need do is scan the texts of the Mass to see that virtually every prayer in our liturgy is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and composed of verses from both the Old and New Testaments.
Moreover, our worship has all the long-standing elements of the worship which God divinely ordained for his people, both in the Old and New Testaments. The first reading today tells us about Melchizedek, the king and priest of Jerusalem who greeted Abraham and brought out offerings of bread and wine to offer in sacrifice to God. Bread and wine! Does that remind you of anything? Eight hundred years after that happened, King David would sing in Psalm 110 of God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who would be a king and a priest forever, “in the line of Melchizedek.” And a thousand years after that, Jesus Christ would fulfill all those Old Testament passages by BEING HIMSELF the King and Eternal High Priest. We do what he told us to do, in remembrance of him, as we bring BREAD AND WINE and he returns the gift to us, having become truly present as our food and drink.
When we are about to receive Holy Communion, the Church confronts us with the words of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” This has no meaning unless we understand the reference to the Paschal or Passover Lamb, which God through Moses ordered his people to take and eat. Doing so, they could be rescued from Egypt as the angel of death PASSED OVER their homes, whose vertical and horizontal doorposts were to be marked with the blood of the slaughtered lamb. We, the disciples of Jesus, are similarly marked with HIS Precious Blood, shed on the vertical and horizontal beams of his Cross, through which we are freed from the slavery of our sins. And when God led his people out of Egypt, their continuing stubbornness led them to wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years before they could enter the Promised Land. But God never abandoned them, and fed them with manna from heaven to sustain them. Christ never abandons US, and in the course of our worship feeds us with the true Bread from heaven, his own Body, to sustain us all through our pilgrimage in the desert of this world.
So you see, the connections between what we do here in the Eucharist and what God’s people have done in our worship even before the coming of Christ are very plain and obvious. To say that we only need to read the menu (that is, to believe solely in the Bible) and to forget about the meal (that is, to neglect doing what Jesus clearly told us to do) is to act contrary to the worship which God himself has prescribed for his people. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather take God at HIS word than listen to one or another of those who have EDITED his word according to their own liking. This is not to blame all those who hold to incomplete versions of the Christian faith. By now, many of these churches and traditions are hundreds of years old, and old prejudices die hard. We who are blessed to have the faith as Christ directed are the ones who must be on guard to never drive a further wedge against the unity of all Christians. We do that best when we are faithful to the marvelous gift of the Eucharist, and when we long for and pray for the day when we shall all be one around the altar and table of the Lord.