Holy Thursday brings us into a world which we hardly recognise, into a Jewish and Semitic world and the ancient world of the Old Testament. In this world the Jewish people are remembering a time beyond their memory when they were enslaved, without a land, a time that they believed that they had been set free by God’s intervention and action. Along with this they sanctified a meal, which they had eaten, before they left, it came to be known as the Passover meal, a meal with a sacrificed lamb and simple foods. To this day it continues to be eaten as a sign of their freedom and a continued promise that God will intervene on their behalf.
What we recognise more is the world of the New Testament when that same meal is eaten by the Apostles and our Lord. This Passover meal, which was once known as liberation from slavery, the promise of God to be with his people always has all of those things re-interpreted by this meal that we call the Last Supper. The sacrificed lamb and its blood shed becomes an anticipation of Christ’s suffering. The setting free from slavery becomes an anticipation of the crucifixion, which will set people free from their sins. The covenant that once was made by the people of the Old Testament is now made into a new covenant in Christ that will not and cannot be broken because it is made by Christ.
This for us has become the Mass and the Eucharist. For us it is a reality that we are connected and united to, in communion with. We come to it every Sunday with the rest of the community and many of us are able to celebrate it every day. What was promised in it we have come to know in our life to be true. The promise of God to be with us. The promise of God to forgive our sins. The promise of God to heal a broken world and the brokenness that is within each of us. The promise of God to bring us closer to him and sanctify us. The promise of God that we might sit at a greater table with him, sitting down in the heavenly banquet.
Many of us have come to rely on the power of this sacrament. When we are sad it has brought us happiness. When we are down it has brought us consolation. When we are afraid it has brought us courage. When we haven’t known where to go it has brought a sense of direction in life. When we have been lonely it has brought us companionship. When we are in sin it has brought us forgiveness. It has meant everything to us and has come to be part of our lives, closely sown into our lives, stitched into the weave of our life. If we were to take it away, there would be a gap. If we were to take it away, it would seem as if we were half the person. If we were to take it away it would change us.
But fundamentally the Eucharist is a mystery of grace. As well as doing all the things we experience it to do, there is much more that it can do and its graces are inexhaustible and its depths are unfathomable. You think you know what it brings you and it then brings more. You think you know what it is about and it leads you in another direction. You think you know what it is about and it surprises you. Today I would like to suggest a few areas that it may bring us to.
Joy. Not the kind of joy that passes, but a profound sense of joy. Not a self satisfied joy, but the joy of someone who is lost and found, like the prodigal son. The joy of a person set free from bonds, forgiven, released, no longer a slave. Joy that becomes the centre of your life not sadness. It gives us the key to understanding that we are a creature loved by its creator. This joy then sets the scene for life – life is not to be regretted, not to be feared, not to be looked at with a wintry eye but to be entered into with joy. Every time we receive the Eucharist it is an invitation to joy, profound joy. Every time that we enter into the Eucharist it is an invitation to live with joy.
Hope. We spend a lot of lives living with fear. What if this happens? What if that happens? We are afraid of the past we are afraid of the future. We are afraid we won’t be able to do this or that. We are afraid that we won’t be able to meet the challenges. The Eucharist calls us to hope, for there is a firm hope in it, that no matter what comes God is present for us. There is everything to be hoped for. There is everything to look forward to. For those who receive the Eucharist they receive hope in their lives like no other hope, that God is with them in this moment and will always be with them always. It is an invitation to see life in a different way not a hopeless or empty life but a life filled with God-given opportunities.
Love. Many people no longer believe in love. Love is something sweet, for postcards. Love is something that willegative and hopeless never really last. Love is like snow that melts quickly And yet love is something strong that overcomes everything that is negative and hopeless. Love is able to forgive whatever comes against it. Love builds the world up. In receiving the Eucharist we are invited to believe in love, his love is stronger than anything.
The Eucharist is a mystery of divine love greater than anything that we can ever imagine, deeper than anything we know, stronger than anything we know.
And alongside this mystery of the Eucharist goes the priesthood which on that same night was instituted by the Lord. Closely bound to the mystery of the Eucharist forever. It is the priest who will celebrate the Eucharist and it will be closely united to his life. He will know its joys, its consolations, the strength and the grace, the power to forgive sins. He will see the mystery of the Eucharist in his life and the life of others. And he will be asked, although he will not know it, to enter into the mystery of the cross in ways in which he could not have expected.
Although the world of the Old Testament seems far from that of the New Testament it is the same mystery of divine love. That mystery and plan of love which has come down to us in different ways through the ages is the same plan, is the same God, is the same plan of love.
In the mystery of the Eucharist God wants to show us how much he loves us and in the mystery of the priesthood he gives people to serve our needs. These are great mysteries which nourish and sustain all of us on the pilgrim journey.