Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Triumph of the Holy Cross. . .

Jesus upon the cross speaks seven words before He is ready to give His final sigh.  Then, as the Evangelist Matthew records, When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The triumph of the cross reveals what was hidden.  What was hidden?  The altar!  Not the face of God or even the back of God walking away in the distance but the altar.  It was revealed.  It was not packed up and put away as something no longer needed but revealed in all its glory to the eyes of those who had not seen it before.  Its sacrifice offered and received for the sake of the world, it is revealed to us as a place now accessible by God's grace and design.  The sacrifice once for all offered to the Father is now offered to us.  The same sacrificial body and blood.  The same crucified and risen Savior.  Now revealed to us in the mystery of bread and wine to be adored with the worship of lips that confess what God has done and gives and in the mouths that receive the Lamb of God with faith and thanksgiving.

Too often the liturgy is seen in terms of what we do and what we want and what we will get out of it.  With that is the presumption, so terribly false, that if we are happy with it and like it, God is happy, too.  The veil of the temple is torn in two and the altar revealed so that our focus does not rest upon us but upon Him who made this sacrifice as Victim and now offers it to us the sacrament of that sacrifice as Priest. The goofiest idea of all is that the liturgy should be and its success defined as what we find meaningful.  The liturgy is centered in the altar, in the sacrifice once offered to the Father and now offered as sacrifice become sacramental food to us, in which our sins are forgiven and we are thereby assured that we are His forevermore.

The Mass is heaven on earth. God literally rips the curtain and reveals Himself to us at the altar of sacrifice where the Lamb of God gave His life for the life of the world.  The perfect Victim and spotless offering offered once for all is now given to us.  The Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom without end is come to us in time, the foretaste of the eternal feast upon our lips and in our mouths.  This Christ is present here where He has promised whether we believe or not, but our belief is our worship and our reception in faith is our worthiness to stand before Him and receive what He offers.  God does not need the liturgy but we do.  We need it because we are still afflicted by the temptations of the world, the torment of the Old Adam who fights against God's redeeming work, and the time and space which is passing away toward its appointed destiny and we with it.  Here is where God reveals Himself and gives Himself to us.  And it is in this Holy Communion that we abide in Him and He abides in us so that we may bear the good fruit that endures.

When the veil of the temple was torn in two as Jesus breathed His last upon that cross, it not only opened heaven for us, but gave to us the sacrifice as sacramental gift and food.  It looks to physical eyes as it is -- bread and wine -- but we see with the eyes of faith that it is Christ's flesh for the life of the world His cup that cleanses us from all our sin.  The death and resurrection of Christ certainly did  raise the dead to heaven, but it also brought and brings heaven on earth to those who are dead in trespasses and sins and born anew to life stronger than death in baptismal water -- a life fed and nourished upon the Body and Blood of  Christ.  Now we see what God sees, the future He has prepared, ourselves as His own new creation, and on this altar, the very and true and corporeal flesh of Christ and His blood.  Within the Divine Service we are united in this blessed communion with Christ and through Christ one to another, in perfect harmony the parts of Christ's body living as one under Christ the head.  If you do not see this in the triumph of the Holy Cross, you have missed something profound and life changing.


Anonymous said...

In the liturgy, "God literally rips the curtain and reveals Himself to us at the altar of sacrifice where the Lamb of God gave His life for the life of the world."
Beautifully written, Pastor.
The liturgy is truly God speaking to us. Thank you.

James Kellerman said...

One problem with this post: it wasn't the altar that was revealed when the curtain was torn in two! The altar stood in the courtyard outside the temple and could be seen by any clean Israelite bringing an offering. What the curtain revealed was the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant should have been. (The Ark had been destroyed when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Or maybe it was buried in the sands of Egypt for Indiana Jones to discover. Take your pick.)

Nonetheless, this does have implications for Christian worship. The Israelites did not worship inside their temple. Neither did the pagan nations surrounding them. But Christians worship indoors--and not just in a place for instruction in God's Word, as in the synagogue. Now the altar goes into the equivalent of the Most Holy Place and it is visible to the faithful. That is because Christ's sacrifice outside Jerusalem has changed the way we look at God. In the Old Testament it was at the altar in the courtyard that God's Name (a common designation for the Second Person of the Trinity) was placed upon the people. But nobody but the High Priest had access to the Most Holy Place, which reminded the people of the inscrutableness of God. But now that Christ has come, it is fitting that the altar be in the Most Holy Place, for "the Only-Begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father has made Him known." By Christ's death and resurrection--as well as in the body and blood still given for us in the sacrament--we come to know the Father.