The Daily Bread, 4th May 2020: Love’s repetitions
Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 41(42):2-3,42:3-4; John 10:11-18
I think I counted some six times that Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “I lay down my life.” As we know, he did not lay down his life six times, but only once! Once was enough for Him to destroy all the sin of the world and to reconcile humanity, history and the cosmos with the Father. To his death once and for all corresponds his resurrection once and for all, but he does not repeat so often in today’s Gospel that he will “take his life up again.”
So, it struck me that the repeated reference to his act of dying was a way in which Jesus was protesting his love: I lay down my life, I lay down my life, I lay down my life ….! For no greater love is there than to lay down your life for your friends and, even more so, for your enemies, as did Jesus. His death was the supreme act of charity, so powerful as to destroy sin, death and hell for ever.
But then I began to think: what about the Mass? Is it not a sacrifice? Well, yes, it is. But it is the re-presentation of Christ’s one sacrifice on Calvary. Not once, not six times, but as many times as it is celebrated until the end of the world, the Mass brings us to Calvary, to the Last Supper and also before the face of the Father in heaven, for there Christ stands pleading for us with the blood of his sacrifice, the everlasting covenant.
In an unbloody manner, that is, in sacrament and sign, the Mass makes present on our altars the very sacrifice of Calvary, the very act of supreme charity of the Son of God for us, “pro nobis.” But the Mass in some sense “does more”: it literally incorporates those who have been baptised into the act of Christ’s dying and rising. At Mass, it’s as if the Lord reaches out to us who are gathered or, as it is just now, those who are united spiritually to his sacrifice, to draw us into his dying and rising. He makes us die with Him, again and again; He makes us rise with Him again and again, as if to drive home into our heads and hearts again and again how much He loves us and wants to be one with us.
This is what happens in holy communion. We become one body with him so as to share in his dying and rising. We don’t just “receive” or “take” or “go to” holy communion: no, we enter into holy communion, we become one in his dying and rising. This is why we must be properly prepared to participate in this sacrament and why, having participated in it, we then live our lives in spirit and in body in union with Christ. Christ in us empowers us to die to our sins and to live for God in the grace of the Spirit. In other words, the life of the resurrection already flows in our veins; our breath is already filled with the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of eternal life.
As each of us is thus caught up into God, so we are caught up into each other: this is the true meaning of the Church. It is not a moral association of shared beliefs, but a union and communion of life, of death and resurrection, with one another in Christ. The Church lives from the Eucharist and lives for the Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Church because no death and resurrection of Christ, no outpouring of the Spirit, no hope of eternal life. The Eucharist is the key to life, the core and heart of the world, the axis of the history of salvation. The Eucharist requires us to die to ourselves, to divest ourselves of our sins and idolatries, to embrace humility of heart and obedience to the Word of God.
As Jesus repeatedly spoke of his dying, his love, for us, we ought in return to die to sin every day, repeatedly, for as long as it takes, until we can love him with all we are and have and do. In this dying is rising; in this death is life. We do not have the power to take up our life again, but so long as we use the power we do have to die to sin, then Jesus himself will raise us up.
Lord, we give you thanks for your sacrifice and your resurrection, for the Mass and holy communion by which you incorporate us into them. As the Church lives from and for the Eucharist, may I try daily to do the same and so protest my eternal love for you!