Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Blood of the Lamb, All Price Excelling

Holy Thursday – 1 April 2010
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Rosary Monastery – St. Ann’s
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
I Cor. 11:23-26
John 13:1-15
            Two weeks ago today, I found myself saying “Whatever happened to those long Lents of my childhood, where we panted almost from Sunday to Sunday, waiting for a bit of relief from the hard penance we were doing all week long of giving up candy?” Where did the time go this year? How is it that we find ourselves already here this evening entering into the Sacred Triduum? Not only time, but life is rushing by! Must it be so? Must life be so hectic, or depending upon your perspective, must it be such a drag, such a burden? Personally, I think not; I think we can seize the moment so to speak, and then time does in a sense stand still for us; it opens up for us; it blossoms and bears fruit; we can take stock, catch our breath, focus or contemplate.
            This is how I imagine the very first Passover in Egypt, as God was working something new for His people leading them out of slavery, and in this spirit I think the children of Israel even yet today can celebrate their yearly Feast of Passover, where they are taken out of life’s mix for whatever time it might take to read the passages, taste the bitter herbs and eat the Passover lamb. It is a time out of time.
In terms of the Christian life, I think there is some real value to seeing Holy Thursday, The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, in that same way. Tonight time stands still as maybe it should every Sunday when we are at Mass, “…that on the same night he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread…” The Sunday Eucharist and Holy Thursday are time which should open up for us, time that should blossom and bear fruit for us. I don’t think it is exactly right to describe life, time and eternity, as either a straight or a curved line with highlights or signposts like pages from a photo album; no, life to the full is repetition, like the seasons which come and go, round and round, year after year. Life is also and more importantly those moments which come and are timeless really, moments, each one unique, which are rendered multidimensional by reason of our memories and experiences. These moments out of time are unforgettable; they stay with us always. We have them in ordinary life too. I can remember, for instance, the first time as a child learning to read, when I made the association with a word I had spoken out in conversation a hundred times, but then one day discovered the way it looks there on the page of a book: “between”, that’s b-e-t-w-e-e-n, “between”. Who would have guessed? That is the word, there it is, I’ve said it many times and now I see it… between. I know it is a poor comparison, but it is my best attempt to help you understand how worship here this evening can be for you, such that time stands still and you have an experience not only of the hour of Jesus’ Passion but of you abiding with Him for a moment at the table of the Last Supper, focused and with no thoughts of what comes next.
            The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, this moment in and out of time, hits me each year as I wash feet. Maybe it has hit you while having your foot washed? Or maybe it has been during the First Eucharistic Prayer when for the one and only time in the year the words just before the Consecration change: “The day before he suffered to save us and all men, that is today, he took bread in his sacred hands…” Maybe it is the moving of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose that sets your mind and heart free within a space which for you normally doesn’t exist, as you rush from one task, one challenge, one duty to the next? “And the Blood, all price excelling, shed by our Immortal King…” Take time this evening; cast the hectic out of your life if ever so briefly; rise above the everyday; listen and behold!
This thought about a timeless space opening up in time (let’s call it time and space set aside for meaning in life, or better, time and space for God and me) came to me as a result of a light-hearted exchange with a friend whom I suspect was laughing on the outside but crying on the inside, if you understand my meaning. I think he was feeling trapped in the relentless rolling on of time, not so much out of breath as just plain frustrated. To tease a bit and try to understand better what he was driving at I mentioned to him that our new dogs at the Nunciature seem to thrive on sameness, on regularity in their schedule. They are happy if there are no surprises or if you don’t want to say that a dog is happy then say that they certainly are at ease when everything comes their way in the same order and at the same time, day after day after day. Lots of terribly worldly folk seem to think that the element of surprise is what makes our lives as human beings different and better than our pets. For them extreme sports, sky diving and racing, may have a certain rush, which can be addictive, but I think has to do with chemicals like adrenalin more than it has to do with really being happy.
Where is happiness and where is life to the full to be found? I think it is in moments of focus and contemplation. I read a book recently, “Born of the Eucharist: A Spirituality for Priests”. It is a series of witnesses to the power and presence, to the importance of the Eucharist, of Jesus truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament. One of the articles was written by an older priest, who over 40 years ago had accompanied his bishop to the last session of the Second Vatican Council. His bishop sent this young priest by train from Rome down to southern Italy to experience Padre Pio. Being a priest, he was ushered toward the front of the church and had a close-up and clear view of Padre Pio as he celebrated Mass that morning. Mass took approximately two hours that day, but the young priest had no notion of the time as he assisted at the wonder of Padre Pio living the Mass with Christ. You and I are not in Padre Pio’s league, but there is something of his experience, the way time at the Altar opened up for Padre Pio that ought to be our experience too individually at Mass anytime, but especially on Sundays and most certainly on Holy Thursday.
            Years ago, families in the U.S. could be distinguished by whether they took vacation or not. I think this difference originated in whether you came from a rural or a city background. The rural model, in the case of my family background where on both sides our roots were in subsistence farming, was that we never went on vacation. When I was a child, we as a family, although we lived in town, followed that pattern. Other families, not from the farm, would scrimp and save all year long to go off somewhere, drive some place like to the Grand Canyon and back. I suppose the reason I never felt deprived or disadvantaged as a child without a yearly vacation trip was because I didn’t know any better. Moreover I think I was more than content, happy, at ease with the special moments in my life, moments out of time and out of the program, especially moments together with Mom and Dad. Most of these moments were not conversations; lots of them clearly etched in my child’s mind were kneeling next to them in church; sometimes it was doing a chore together. That is how all our lives are meant to be. The quality of life comes from interpersonal exchanges and not necessary ones filled with talk. The same is true of our relationship with the Living God, Who has revealed Himself to us in Christ. That is simply so because of who we are, made by God and loved by God, in communion with the Lord.
            To enjoy life only one thing is necessary. I need but enter into the mystery of God’s love. I can do it with a personal reflection during quiet time; I can make a visit to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament; I can pray the Rosary together with the Blessed Mother as she recalls the great mysteries in the life of her Son, which brought about our salvation. I can actively and attentively participate at Sunday Mass. I can confess my sins and live aware of His Blood, the Blood of the Lamb, All Price Excelling, shed for me.
            Get unstuck with me in time for a moment or two this evening, as we wash feet, as we pray the great Eucharistic Prayer, as we receive Jesus, True God and True Man, in Holy Communion, and as we watch and pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It may be Holy Thursday again before you know it, but this one might be a milestone for you, a powerful moment with the Lord of your life, a moment out of time.

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