18 October 2017

Homily - October 15 2017 - The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As he does today, the prophet Isaiah frequently speaks of “this mountain” on which the Lord God “will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6). It is on this same mountain that he will “destroy the veil that veils all peoples” (Isaiah 25:7) and “destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). And it is on this mountain that he will “wipe away the tears from every face” (Isaiah 25:8). It is a prophecy filled with great hope, with great love, and with great longing, the great prophecy of the advent of God.

It is a prophecy that answers the deepest yearning of the human heart, but which mountain does Isaiah refer to? We know he is not speaking of some vague, notional mountain, but is instead referring to a very specific mountain. If we go back several chapters in the Book of Isaiah - nineteen, in fact – the prophet tells us, “In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). Isaiah, then, was in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion where the Lord of hosts dwelt (cf. Isaiah 8:18).

From the Map Psalter.
It was on that very mountain that the Temple had been built and dedicated. It was on that very mountain that sacrifices were offered to God, both to give him thanks and to atone for sins. It is of Mount Zion, then, that Isaiah says, “one day it will be said: ‘Behold our God, to whom we look to save us’” (Isaiah 25:9)! In this prophecy, so full of eager expectation, we see that “Temple worship was always accompanied by a vivid sense of its insufficiency.”[1] If it were sufficient to fully reconcile God and man, such a prophecy would not have been needed for it would already have happened; man would already have been able to look upon the face of God.

We see this in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where we read that “the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;” they could not finally fulfill their function (Hebrews 7:23). They served “a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern which I will show you on the mountain’” (Hebrews 8:5). This is, in part, why the Old Covenant, sealed with the blood of sheep and goats, had to be annually renewed on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the Ark of the Covenant with blood (cf. Leviticus 16).

So it was with the priests of the Old Covenant, but it is not so with the High Priest of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. He came among us

as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14).

We might well say that

worship through types and shadows, worship with replacements, ends at the very moment when the real worship takes place: the self-offering of the Son who has become man and ‘Lamb,’ the ‘Firstborn,’ who gathers up into himself all worship of God, takes it from the types and shadows into the reality of man’s union with the living God.[2]

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross fulfills what the sheep and goats only signified; they pointed to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Isaiah’s prophecies concerned the Temple on Mount Zion, but Jesus clear that he himself is the true Temple of God. As such, it is on Calvary, where he was lifted up for all to see, where the Lord provided a rich feast, removed the veil between us and God, and destroyed death forever; it is there that we, too, can look to the God who saved us. It is here, at the altar of the Lord, at, if you will, this mountain, that we, too, can look to the God who saved us because the place of the Temple has been replaced “by the universal Temple of the risen Christ, whose outstretched arms on the Cross span the world, in order to draw all men into the embrace of eternal love.”[3]

It should be a great sadness for us, then, that so many who have been invited to the wedding feast, that so many who have been invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb, refuse his invitation to receive the embrace of his love. Indeed, it is here at the altar of the Lord, where the Death of Christ is re-presented to the Father and at which we receive his very Body and Blood as our nourishment and sustenance on our pilgrimage to the Father’s house, that the Lord will indeed wipe away the tears from every face. Too many miss this because they do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist; they question the power of the Lord’s own words to do as he says and so their hearts are not comforted on this mountain because they do not see him.

Each one of us must fall in love with the Blessed Sacrament by which the Lord Jesus remains with us always, by which he refreshes our souls, and by which he strengthens us to do his will (cf. Psalm 23:3; Philippians 4:13). If we fall in love with the Eucharist, we will understand the truth of Isaiah’s words, even as J.R.R. Tolkien did.

In a letter to one of his sons, he wrote these moving words from the heart of one who loved the Eucharist very deeply:

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament…. There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all of your loves upon earth, and more than that, Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.[4]

The key phrase here is that the Eucharistic Lord “demands the surrender of all.” Jesus held nothing back for us and went all the way to the Cross; he surrendered everything for us. How can we not respond in return and surrender everything we have, everything we are to him? Let each of us, then, seek our satisfaction in the Eucharist and surrender to him and find everything we seek in him. Then, having ourselves been filled with the Lord’s loving mercy, we, too, can go out and invite others to join us at the banquet of the Lamb. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2000), 39.
[2] Ibid., 43-44.
[3] Idid., 48.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 6-8 March, 1941. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 53-54.

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