Exodus 24:3-8, Hebrews 9:11-15, Mark 14:12-26 (Corpus Christi, year B)
During my second year at university I was going through a tough time, feeling overburdened with assignments and exams. I was stressed out and burnt out. In the midst of this, I sat down for coffee with a friend of mine. I vented to him for a half hour about the struggles I was facing. I was looking for a sympathetic ear and to receive some encouragement. After I finished speaking, my friend, who was quite a bit more religious than I was at the time, simply said “you need to offer it up”. Offer it up?! This was not what I wanted to hear. I felt like my friend had ruined my pity party. So, rather maturely, I responded (or perhaps shouted) back to him “why don’t you offer it up?!”
At this very moment each of us carries different struggles and burdens. An illness we are coping with. Stress related to financial uncertainty or difficulties with work or school. The pain of a relationship that seems broken beyond repair. Today I am going to suggest that we do as my friend advised me some years ago: offer it up. More than this, I will suggest we offer up whatever burden we carry whenever we are at Mass. Before you have the chance to respond strongly to my suggestion, as I did to my friend’s, I want to give some rationale supporting it.
Jesus was crucified on Calvary, in the shadow of the Temple. Early Christians explained that we cannot appreciate the significance of Jesus’ death on the Cross, unless we understand its connection to the Temple. For the 1st century Jew, the Temple was the epicenter of their religious life. It was the place where people came to encounter God and perform the central act in their religion: offering sacrifice. Sacrifices of grain and and animals were continuously offered in the Temple. For us, the idea of sacrifice can seem foreign, barbaric even. It is as though sacrifices are meant to appease the hunger of some brutal deity. Jews viewed the idea of sacrifice very differently. They understood that in offering sacrifice they were taking a small piece of God’s creation and returning it back to Him. It was an act of thanksgiving. In the first reading, which describes the sacrifice offered by Moses, we see another purpose of sacrifice. Moses took the blood of the sacrifice and placed half on the altar and half on the people. This action was meant to unite God and the people. Sin separates us from God. In offering sacrifice the people tried to restore their relationship with God. As the author to the Hebrews makes clear, however, countless animal sacrifices could not achieve this task. All the sacrifices offered in the Temple find its fulfillment in Jesus’ offering of Himself on the Cross. The blood of Jesus does what the blood of animal sacrifices could never fully accomplish: it definatively re-unifies humanity with God.
Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that we would have a way to stay connected to the sacrifice He offered once and for all on Calvary. When we read the accounts of Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, we find that they are filled with the language of sacrifice. Take it; this is my body. This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Jesus is using Temple talk. He is making an explicit link between the Eucharist and His death on the Cross. Whenever we are at Mass, we are connected to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. The question is how? The answer is found in Jesus in other words at the Last Supper: “do this in memory of me”. To appreciate this phrase, we need to realize that Jesus and His followers had a radically different conception of “remembrance” than us. If I look at a picture from an old holiday, I “remember” the experience by thinking about where I was and who was with me. The memory may evoke a certain emotion. For Jews at the time of Christ, “remembering” meant much more. It was a very loaded term. For example, at each Passover, the Jews remembered the Exodus, when God freed them from slavery in Egypt. When Jews “remembered” the Exodus, they did not simply understand that they were thinking about it and celebrating the event. They believed that they were actually made present at the Exodus; through remembrance, they really participated in an event that occurred over 1000 years before.
When Jesus said “do this in memory of me”, He meant it in the Jewish sense of the term. Jesus followers understood that when they “did this in memory of Jesus”, when they celebrated the Mass, they were really present again at the Passion and Death of Jesus. Because of this, when we do “this in remembrance of Jesus” He really becomes present in our midst. At the moment of the consecration, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. At every Mass, we believe that we are really made present at the one sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary nearly 2000 years ago.
We are not, however, mere spectators to Christ’s self offering. The Mass allows us to participate in this sacrifice. Any offering or sacrifice that we make to God on our own is just like the grain and animal sacrifices offered in the Temple. They are well intentioned but ultimately ineffective. The incredible thing about the Eucharist is that it joins us to Jesus. When we eat food, that food is digested and becomes a part of our body. With the Eucharist, it is just the opposite. The Eucharist is food which transforms us into itself. Whenever we receive Communion we are joined to Jesus. Because of this, when we offer our sacrifices at Mass, we offer them in union with Jesus. This gives our sacrifices value and makes them effective. Our sacrifices become true acts of thanksgiving which are able to really help others, bringing them closer to God. Together with Jesus, our sacrifices help to reunite humanity and divinity.
Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to almighty God, the almighty Father. We hear these words each Mass but they often go in one ear and out the other. We miss an incredible opportunity. Each one of us in meant to bring our own personal sacrifice to the Mass, during which it is joined to the sacrifice of Jesus and so given meaning and made fruitful. What will your sacrifice be today? What suffering, challenge, inconvenience, or pain do you carry today? Offer it up. Allow God to use your sacrifice to help save the world.