Posted by: Fr Chris | April 7, 2023

Paradoxes of Holy Thursday

Today is a day of paradoxes: the Eternal Word of God is a servant; he who cannot be contained by the universe descends into bread and wine; the apostle who was given the body and blood of the Lord sells him for a few coins. Christ serves as the humblest, most worthless slave by washing the feet of the apostles. In the Cathedral Vespers we hear this verse: He who wraps the heavens with clouds now girds himself with a towel; he who once divided the Red Sea now pours water into a basin, and kneeling before them, he begins to wash the feet of the disciples.

This same humble Lord then proceeds to pour himself out in the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, conferring his ability to transform bread and wine into his living Body and Blood to the twelve, including Judas who will walk out of the room with that Body and Blood inside him, so as to betray the Lord for the cost of a cheap slave, the price of turning in a thief to the police.

He who gave of himself in the Eucharist, will soon, as we hear in the prophet Isaiah, chapter 50, offer his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who pulled out his beard; he will not hide his face from mocking and spitting.

We hear in the first letter to the Corinthians,  chapter 11, that Jesus took the bread and broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Only 31% of American Catholics believe that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist. Not even one-fifth of American Catholics now go to Sunday Mass every week. There is no hunger, no sense of starvation for Holy Communion. Ah, but we believe all this as people who come to a Byzantine Catholic church. We have no problem believing that. Do we? Do we really believe that the Eucharist is a great mystery, a powerful sacrament? And just what is it really? How do we explain our belief to non-Catholics who see it is a memorial meal, who say that Jesus did not mean that it really IS His Body?

Body – what did Jesus give? He would have said this word: BaSaR – His entire personhood, His living body. Blood – the blood he received from Our Lady, human blood, united to His divinity, POURED OUT as a sacrifice. When a host is changed into flesh, when a host gives off blood, and those elements are subjected to scientific tests, the results are always, always, the same – the Church has allowed scientists to test Eucharistic miracles from Lanciano in the eighth century and Argentina in the twenty-first century. The results are always the same: the flesh is alive, from a bruised heart, a heart that shows signs of terrible trauma and suffering, from the left ventricle, the ventricle that pushes out purified blood into the body. The blood is always AB blood, the blood type of Jewish men from first-century Palestine, the blood that is used for plasma for the healing of burns and wounds, pumped in a purified form from that Sacred Heart that has so loved us, as Jesus revealed to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

ZiKKaRoN – the bible was not written in English! Jesus did not speak in English! He did not say, remember me as somebody from the distant past. He used Hebrew and Aramaic – ZKKRN means to make real, NOT remember. When the Jews celebrated Passover this week, they did not say, “Why was this night different from other nights?” They say why IS this night different from other nights? They are THERE, in Egypt, in the darkness of slavery, waiting for the angel of death to pass over each Israelite house marked with the blood of the lamb. We, the spiritual and theological heirs of Judaism, are at the Last Supper, at Calvary, at the Resurrection. ZKKRN means to make the event real – do this in ZKKRN of me: Make Me Real: I will be there when you do.

Judas did not allow Christ to change him from his path of betraying the Lord. The Apostles themselves did not let the reception of the Eucharist transform themselves at the moment of crisis in the garden of Gethsemane. We must let Christ into our hearts, to pierce through our attachment to sin, to stir us up out of indifference or spiritual laziness.

Yes, we recite the prayer of St John  Chrysostom before receiving Communion: O Lord, I believe and profess … But do we believe and profess this through our lives? do I let the power of Communion come into me and change me? If I am fed with the Body and Blood of the Lord, I can go forward, fortified with Him. His blood is healing, his body is strength, he who made heaven and earth can make a change in me, but only if I cooperate with the grace that he is pouring out on me, waiting to soak me with his abundant love that conquers all problems and fears.

All of the ancient liturgies of the Church build up to the great moment of the consecration of the gifts and distribution of those gifts in Holy Communion. And then the liturgies swiftly come to a close. An hour devoted to the buildup, and within fifteen minutes after Communion everyone can pack up and head out of the church. Why? Because we are filled with the living Body, with the healing Blood that can heal all spiritual and emotional wounds. We are each a living tabernacle, filled with the Holy Eucharist, with the most Blessed Sacrament. We are sent out into the world, to perform the liturgy after the divine liturgy, to change this broken world and hasten the in-breaking of the kingdom of God into time and so hasten His Second Coming.

Jesus gives one commandment, and he gives it at the Last Supper after he warns the apostles that his time is coming to an end.  He says in John 13:“Love one another. As I love you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. He later reiterates in chapter 15, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. We are his friends. In every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, we are his friends. Indeed, through the mystery of Baptism, we are his brothers and sisters, we are his children. Our Lady at the foot of the cross became our mother. We are a massive family, united with all Catholics around the world, who stand in the shadow of the cross but also at the door of the tomb, fed with the body of the Lord, washed in the blood of the true Lamb of God, the true Lamb of Passover. Tonight especially, let us rejoice in our union with Christ that we will experience through this holy mystery. Tonight especially let us ask with our whole heart that we be brave enough to let his body and blood transform our behaviors, our attitudes, our desires, so that we will walk alongside Him, our brother, our savior, our redeemer who willingly lay down his life for us, his friends.

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