Thursday, April 5, 2012
Gazing upon the mystery of mercy...
As we make our way through Holy Week, as the Sacred Triduum is begun, with a view to the destination of Easter, we are not merely going through the motions or following the traditions of old, we are gazing upon the mystery of mercy. It is not an imagined mercy but a mercy concrete and real in the means of grace. That is made most clear to us on Holy Thursday. We come not to re-enact but to receive what is the ongoing feast. We come not to remember a memory of our past but to encounter its living reality in the bread that is His body for the life of the world and His blood shed for us once with continuing effect of mercy. We come to the familiar routine of the mass, the Divine Service, the Eucharist, yet to see it anew within the context of the final moments of our Lord's life passion and life.
We come to gaze upon the mystery of mercy. The cross itself is perhaps one of the most profound images upon which we gaze upon the mystery of mercy. How strange that something filled with so much death could become the comforting symbol and hope-filled sign of our faith. It is only because the Spirit gives us eyes to see in the shape of death the image of life, in the agonized death of our Lord to behold the ultimate statement of love, and in the body broken and blood she the blessed food that nourishes and strengthens our fearful and weak faith for the test of this life and for blessed gift of eternity.
We come to gaze upon the mystery of mercy. Walking past the font we recall the promise of our own baptism. The death of Jesus is not simply historical event or even a death that belongs to another. By baptism it has also become our own death with Christ to sin. In baptism we were crucified with Christ and laid into His tomb to be reborn to life in Christ as new people. We are not who we were but are made new in Christ as the people of God -- and we owe it all to Him and nothing to our choice. It is God's choice upon which our hope and life rests.
We come to gaze upon the mystery of mercy. Meeting Jesus where He has bidden us in the gift of the Sacrament that gives to us His flesh hidden in bread and His blood hidden in wine. We are here not as spectators who watch something unfold before us. We are here as full participants for this broken body and this blood poured out for us and for many is offered now to us as the heavenly food which comes down to feed us till we want for nothing more. We gaze upon the mystery of mercy and adore Christ who is present not in some vague spiritual place but in the smell, taste, and texture of this bread and this cup -- food meant to be eaten and drunk in faith and not food to be worshiped apart from its use but worshiped by using it as Christ has bidden: Take, eat.... Take drink...
Here is the Lamb of sacrifice, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Here the holy and spotless Lamb comes for the guilty and dirty sinner. For you and for me. We have nothing to offer Him. He comes not to receive from us but to give us what His self-offering has accomplished. Forgiveness, life, and salvation... full... free... Exchanging the scandal of our sin for the mystery of His mercy.
A friend who spent some time in Rome told me the story of a strange steeple. There is a church there -- very much like most Italian churches. Except for one thing. Upon the steeple is not a cross but a set of antlers. The story goes that a nobleman was married there but his wife ended up running off with the best man. Apparently in Italian, such a woman is called a wife with horns. So the nobleman put a set of antlers upon the steeple and there they have stood for so many, many years. The scandal of his shame has lived beyond his own memory. I am told that there are few weddings in that church ever since.
Today we lift up the cross and the scandal of our sin and shame. Like the antlers of that Church, we lift up the scandal of our rebellion that resulted in death. And in its place, God has put the scandal of the cross -- the innocent blood shed for the guilty, the death that gives life, the love expressed in suffering. Mercy is what raise up. Mercy is what we come to gaze upon. Mercy is our meal. Mercy is what comforts us in life and death. Come let us gaze upon the mystery of mercy... and let us eat it and drink it... let us by this eating and drinking carry around in us the death of Christ until He comes and His life is made fully manifest in us. Amen