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Where the Cross and the Supper are One (Sermon for Maundy Thursday)

“Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end … fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power.”

After reading the Passion of the Lord on Sunday, we could easily have the impression that the events we commemorate during these sacred days are things that happened to our Lord. Indeed, this is the literal meaning of “passion” – something that happens to you while you are passive. But look just a little deeper, and you see that the Lord not only accepts His death as the Father’s will, but that He is the real protagonist in the sacred drama unfolding before us. The weighty words from St. John that begin this evening’s Gospel make clear that everything that is to take place was freely chosen by the Lord. How He could accept His death is expressed tonight in the Last Supper. What takes place tonight is already an anticipation of His death, and the transformation of His death into an act of love.

En los últimos días, escuchando y meditando la Pasión del Señor, hemos visto que su Pasión no fue solamente unos acontecimientos que pasaron a Él, sino que Él libremente y voluntariamente aceptó su Pasión y Muerte. Como lo podría hacer vemos esta noche, porque lo que tiene lugar esta noche ya es una anticipación de Su muerte, y la trasformación de la misma en un acto de amor.

The words of the institution of the Eucharist that we have heard so many times make clear that He is establishing a sacrifice. “This is my body, which is given for you.” “The blood of the new covenant” – this is sacrificial language.

After entering Jerusalem in triumph on Sunday, He entered the Temple and overturned the money changers’ tables. This was not a lesson in correct behavior in church. In turning over the money changers’ tables, Christ made it impossible for people to change their currency into the coins that had to be used to buy the sacrificial animals for the Temple sacrifices. No money changers, no Temple currency, no heifers, bulls, and doves. He has abolished the old daily sacrifices. A monumental event has just taken place in the life of the chosen people. The old sacrifices, commanded by God Himself to offered constantly in the Temple, have been cleared away. And now they will be replaced by something new. All the Temple sacrifices were a substitute for Christ. Even the first animal sacrificed, the ram, was a substitute for the son, Isaac. Now, the true Son is not spared or substituted.

Esta semana, inmediatamente después de entrar triunfalmente en Jerusalén el domingo, Cristo derribó las mesas de los cambistas. Esto no fue una lección sobre el comportamiento en la Iglesia, sino la abolición de los sacrificios del antiguo testamento, porque sin la moneda del Templo, no se podría comprar las víctimas para los sacrificios. Estos sacrificios Dios mismo había mandado hacer. El mensaje del Señor es claro: “Algo mayor que el Templo está aquí.” Él ha entrado en Jerusalén para establecer un nuevo Templo y un nuevo sacrificio: “Destruid este templo y en tres días lo levantaré.”

“The death of Jesus thus affords us the key to understanding the Last Supper, and the Supper is the anticipation of the death, the transformation of a violent death into a voluntary sacrifice, in that act of love which is the redemption of the world. The death without the finite act of love of the Supper would be empty, without meaning. The Supper without the actual realization of the death it anticipated would be a gesture without reality. Supper and Cross together are the only and inseparable source of the Eucharist. The Eucharist does not spring from the Supper alone” (Ratzinger p. 119). It springs from this oneness of Supper and Cross, as we will see tomorrow when the blood and water flow out of Christ’s pierced side – the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments.

La muerte de Jesús entonces nos da la clave para entender la Última Cena, y la Cena es la anticipación de la muerte, la transformación de una muerte violenta en un sacrificio voluntario, en aquel acto de amor que es la redención del mundo. La muerte sin el acto preciso de amor de la Cena sería vacía, sin significado. La Cena sin la Muerte que anticipó sería un gesto sin realidad. La Cena y la Cruz juntos son la única e inseparable fuente de la Eucaristía.

To the words that recall God’s sacrificial covenant with Israel on Mt. Sinai, perpetuated in the sacrifices of the Temple, Christ adds words from a very different context: “This is my body given for you.” “This is my blood, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” These words come from the suffering servant of Isaiah, from the exile, in which sacrifices of praise and expiation could not be offered because the Temple had been destroyed by Israel’s enemies. The only possibility for drawing near to God in the exile was suffering for God. And that is exactly what Christ is about to do, and what He invites us to do as well. (Ratzinger, 120)

“To participate in the Eucharist, to communicate with the body and blood of Christ, demands the liturgy of our life, a sharing in the passion of the Servant of God. In this participation, our sufferings become “sacrifice” and so we can complete “in [our] flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” in the worlds of St. Paul (Col 1:24). (Ratzinger, 121). Pope Benedict once made so bold as to claim that “Israel concelebrated the Eucharist with Jesus, in that they shared in the sufferings of the Servant of God.”

A las palabras que recuerdan los sacrificios del Templo, el Señor añade palabras de otro contexto: “Éste es mi cuerpo, por ustedes.” “Ésta es mi sangre, derramada por muchos por el perdón de los pecados.” Estas palabras vienen del exilio, cuando los sacrificios de alabanza y expiación no se podrían ofrecer porque los enemigos de Israel habían destruido el Templo. La única posibilidad de acercarse a Dios en el exilio, sin el culto y sin los sacrificios, era sufrir por Dios. Y esto es exactamente lo que Cristo estaba por hacer, y lo que nos invita a hacer también.

How we do so is symbolized beautifully by the procession at the end of this Mass. At the end of this liturgy, the Church imitates Jesus’s journey, carrying the Blessed Sacrament from the sanctuary to the altar of repose to represent the loneliness of Gethsemane, the loneliness of Jesus’s mortal anguish. We pray before the altar of repose, wanting to following Jesus in the prayer of His loneliness so that it ceases to be loneliness. And this should not be for tonight only, for we are constantly called to enter into His loneliness, seeking him always, despised, derided, there where He is alone … to watch with Him, and in the midst of the darkness to renew with Him the light of life, which He always is, where the Cross and the Supper are one. (Ratzinger 109-110)

La procesión con el Santísimo al monumento al final de ésta Misa simboliza hermosamente este sufrir con Cristo. Imitamos el camino del Señor, llevando a Él a la soledad de Getsemaní, la soledad de la angustia mortal del Señor. Oramos antes del monumento, queriendo seguir al Señor en Su oración de soledad para que cesa de ser soledad. Y así nos inspiramos a buscarlo siempre, despreciado, ridiculizado, allí donde está solo, a velar con Él, y en el medio de la oscuridad renovar con Él la luz de la vida, donde la Cruz y la Cena son un único acto de amor.

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson

Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, A.D. MMXXIII

All references to:

Pope Benedict XVI. Journey to Easter. Crossroad, 2006.


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