25 February 2015

Passion, Part 1 - Today's Chapel Homily

There is something awesome in that last Passover celebrated by the Lord Jesus.  That night He was under no illusions.  He knew exactly what it was that awaited Him.  He also knew by whom it would come.  Reclining at the table in oriental fashion, he says quite plainly that one of the twelve will betray Him, and one after the other asks:  “Is it I?”  “Is it I?” “Is it I?”  Their hearts were breaking.  They’d been with Him long enough to know that whatever He said was truth.  He didn’t lie.  He didn’t exaggerate.  He didn’t deceive.  He just spoke what was and let the chips fall where they may.  The truth He spoke at the table that night was so painful that their hearts felt torn in two as He looked about them with such love. 

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him.” What was written?  To what was He referring?  Listen to what the prophets had said:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me?  So far from the words of my groaning....They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.”  “His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”  “He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  “He was bruised for our iniquities.”  “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.”  “He bore the sins of many.”  “They will look on Me whom they have pierced, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a first-born.” 

Pain.  Suffering.  Crushing defeat.  Rejection.  Hatred.  Torture and death.  These stare Jesus in the face that night.  And He looks at them unflinchingly.  He knows that they will come to Him through Judas’ betrayal and he speaks of Judas’ future in terms very bleak indeed.  “Better for that man not to have been born.” 

But with all of that facing Him, Jesus looks at the Passover meal spread out before Him and what fills His heart?  Not despair.  Not anger.  With His suffering about to begin, Jesus’ heart is filled with joy and yearning.  Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus said to them:  “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” 

Throughout their years together they had seen it happen a hundred times.  Jesus, with food before Him, lifts His holy eyes to heaven and blesses God His Father, giving Him thanks and praise, and then they share the meal together.  He taught them at the meals.  He laughed with them at the meals.  He loved them at the meals.  Mealtime with Jesus was nothing less than heaven on earth.  And now He’s getting ready to leave them, to take away His visible presence from them.  This was to be the last meal that He would ever share with them in the old way.  In a sense it was all over, and yet in a way more wonderful than any of them could ever have imagined, it was still to go on and be better than it ever was before.

With joy in His heart, He took the break in His hands, hands soon to be pierced by nails, and lifted His eyes one more time to the skies and blessed the heavenly Father and then broke it and gave it to them and said the most awesome words:  “Take,; this is My body.”  With wonder in their eyes they took the bread and ate it.  Wondering, for Jesus, as we just said, was not given to lying or exaggerating or saying anything but the absolute truth.  “This is My body.”  In fear and trembling they received it, and they wondered.  And then He did the thing that was unthinkable for a Jew.  He took in his hand the cup, He lifted it up and gave thanks over it - and you just think what it means that that night and for that cup Jesus could give thanks - and He gave it to them and said:  “This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.” 

Now, no good Jew would ever drink blood, would ever even conceive of the idea.  God’s law given through Moses repeatedly stressed that never could God’s holy people drink blood or even eat meat with the blood in it.  God had said:  “The life is in the blood.”  And now Jesus reaches them the blood, the covenant blood, the blood of His new covenant, and bids them drink up.

Did He smile to see the perplexity on their faces as one after the other they drank?  He had just given them and through them given to His Church until the Last Day the manner and the means by which He would still have table fellowship with His own.  In the Body and in the Blood, His Body given for many, His Blood of the New and everlasting Covenant, He would still be with His disciples.  Giving them forgiveness.  Loving them.  Strengthening their faith. 

“Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  Yes, He looked the cross straight in the eye, but He saw that the cross wasn’t the end.  On the other side of the cross and darkness, there was the day of joy, the day when the Son of Man would lift the cup of wine at the Feast that does not end, the day when His family would be all gathered together, not just the 12 disciples but the 12 tribes of the New Israel, all His brothers and sisters. 

The writer to the Hebrews understood what was going on in the heart and mind of Jesus that night when he wrote:  “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is sat down at the right hand of God.”  So it was that the meal that night, which was to reach to the ends of time, bringing Jesus’ presence in His body and blood to his people, ended with a song.  Not a dirge, but a hymn of joy.  One of the Hallel Psalms, sung at the Passover.  A going home psalm.  The song of THE pilgrim on the way to THE holy city, bringing His family home with Him. Amen. 

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