Whenever I used to go into St Philip’s school, in the days before the covid pandemic put a stop to all that, I would always tell the children that they must learn three important “words” as they are growing up, words which they must learn to say to others, over and over and over again, words which they also have to learn to say to God, over and over and over again. Those words are “Please”, “Thank You” and “Sorry”. I want to focus today on the second of those words:” Thank You”. Because today we recall how Jesus instituted the Eucharist at his Last Supper, and the very word “Eucharist” means “Good Gift” or “Thanksgiving for a Good Gift”.
The Eucharist, our Mass, is, as our psalm today reminds us “a thanksgiving sacrifice”. In the Eucharist we give thanks to the Lord, again as our psalm reminds us, “for all his bounty”, all his goodness, to us.
The word “bounty” speaks of abundance, an abundance of goodness. In John’s Gospel, Jesus said that he had come to earth, come into our lives, to give us “life in abundance” (John 10:10). Can you say, brothers and sisters, can I say, that I am living life in “abundance”? Perhaps nearly all of us would want to respond “No, not really”. We can always point to something in our lives where we feel a lack, something short of fullness of life, an illness maybe, a struggle for money, broken relationships. But Jesus is not speaking about those kinds of “abundance”. Just before he speaks about bringing us the fullness of life, he says that the devil is a thief who comes only “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10: 10). To steal and kill and destroy – what exactly? Eternal life, supernatural life, life with God forever in heaven. That is what the devil robbed us of when he tempted our first parents, Adam and Eve, into that fateful primordial sin of rebellion and disobedience. At that moment, the abundance of life that Adam and Eve were enjoying , a life of Paradise and eternity in the loving presence of God, was taken from them, and because we inherited that “lack”, which is original sin, we were condemned ever since to end our days in hell. As a priest –friend used to say, “We were headed to hell in a hand-basket”. And then God chose to intervene, to send his Son, Jesus , into the world, to undo our sin, by offering his life on the cross as an atonement sacrifice for our sin, and restore to us what had been stolen and killed and destroyed in us , life eternal with God. We are no longer headed for hell in a hand-basket, unless that is what we want. We are now headed for heaven in the arms of Jesus.
As we look more closely at that responsorial psalm, we see that it is a prophecy of the Eucharist. When the priest lifts up the host, he repeats the words of Jesus over it:” Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you “. As the priest lifts up the sacred Host, we are reminded of Jesus ‘body, being lifted up on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins. Then the priest takes the chalice, or cup, and says over it the words of Jesus also:” Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins”. What are we doing at that moment but repeating the words of our responsorial psalm:” I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”?
St Paul tells us in our second reading that “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes “. In other words, brothers and sisters, when we come to Mass, we are recalling that Jesus, on the cross, won for us the forgiveness of sins. When we receive communion, the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are taking that forgiveness of sins deep into us.
The Eucharist is a “sacrifice” – it is the offering of the Body and Blood of Jesus on the cross in a sacramental, liturgical form. In the Old Testament, the priests of the Jewish faith offered up animal sacrifices to God in payment for their sins, knowing full well that such sacrifices did not work. As the book of Hebrews says:” It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10: 4). The only sacrifice that works to take away the sins of human beings is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and that sacrifice we recall and re-present on the altar at Mass.
When Jesus died on the cross , he looked at the people cursing and screaming at him , and said to the Father :”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing “ (Luke 23:34) At the same time, he was also looking across the course of centuries, and regarding us in our sins, and was also praying at that moment for us to the Heavenly Father, and saying :”Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. Yes, brothers and sisters, at that supreme moment of sacrifice on the cross, Jesus was offering himself to his Father on our behalf and pleading for God to forgive us. Do you really believe that God would not hear and answer that prayer of His Son, Jesus? , In the words of our psalm today, “the death of Christ, the faithful one of God” was a sacrifice precious to the Lord , and , because of it, then you and I, who are mere servants, are liberated from the bonds of sin and death and shame, and guilt, and hell.
How can we possibly make return to the Lord Jesus for this supreme sacrifice of Himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins? All we can do is continually present to our Heavenly Father, this sacrifice of thanksgiving, this Eucharist. The Book of Hebrews tells us that, as we do this, during Mass, then Jesus is presenting his wounds to His Father in heaven on our behalf, and saying to Him: “Father, forgive him, forgive her, I died for them to be released from hell and shame and guilt”. Hebrews tells us that Jesus “lives forever to make intercession for us “(Hebrews 7:25) so he is “able for all time to save those who approach God through him” (7:25). If we think we can simply present ourselves to God at the end of our lives and expect that all our sins will be forgiven, because we are essentially “good “ people, that will not suffice for us to win salvation. If we think that because we have been baptized, then that is all we need to be saved, we are mistaken. Baptism is the primary sacrament, it makes us sons and daughters of God, it gives us the Holy Spirit, who can make us holy and acceptable to God, it brings forgiveness of the original sin we inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. But, at our baptism, if we were babies, then our parents made baptismal promises or vows to God concerning us, at our confirmation, we repeated those self-same vows. Those vows committed us to living out our faith, day by day, moment by moment. As our responsorial psalm today says:” I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. Unless, day by day, moment by moment , we are living out our baptismal faith as Catholic Christians, seeking to live lives of holiness, in thanksgiving for Christ’s winning salvation for us by his death on the cross, then all we are doing over the next three days is a charade, it is worthless, it achieves nothing. We are still dead in our sins, and heading for hell in a handbasket.
But, hopefully, you and I, brothers and sisters, are not just going through the motions here, ritually recalling, in words and actions, all that Jesus lived through in His Passion and Death and Resurrection. Hopefully, we are living these words and actions of Jesus, taking them deep into ourselves, and allowing them to trigger us into paying the vows of our baptism to the Lord. By living lives of love, of sacrifice, of service, of putting other people’s needs ahead of our own, and seeking to release others also from the bonds of their sin and shame and guilt and self-rejection by proclaiming to them that, in Christ Jesus, in and through his Death and Resurrection, we and they are set free from captivity to evil. We and they can begin to live a whole new way of life, characterized not by fear and shame and guilt, but by freedom and joy and love. And thanksgiving.