April 5, 2007
Liturgy of Holy Thursday
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Every time we gather in this sacred space to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, we celebrate the new and eternal covenant of the Lord. What makes the Lord’s covenant new? What are its signs or manifestations?
The covenant we are celebrating is the covenant that fulfills, completes and perfects all covenants forged between God and humanity. Animal sacrifices, circumcision and the Law prefigure the covenant we celebrate. The covenants of the past do not stand on their own. They depend on and point to the one high priest who comes into the world for its salvation and transfiguration. Indeed, the new and eternal covenant we celebrate stands before and after the covenants of the past. What we are now concelebrating draws us into a new and more intimate relationship with God made possible only through Jesus the Christ.
There are many signs which reveal to us the new and eternal covenant. Among them are a new priest, a new offering, a new temple and a new people. Jesus is the one, new and eternal high priest. His priesthood is unique for he is not only the offerer but also the offering. “But when Christ appeared as a high priest …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.” (Hebrews 9:11-12) Jesus is the pre-eternal Son and Word of God who has humbled himself by taking on our humanity so as to become the offering which will renew every one and every thing.
Jesus is both offerer and offering who has come into the world for the life of the world and its salvation. He is also the new temple not made by hands. This new temple is not bound by the parameters of time and space. Nor is it restricted to an exclusive race or people. Being the new temple Jesus incorporates into himself the entire cosmos. “Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
In this sacred space we now gather around the one high priest. Together, with him, we concelebrate the new and eternal covenant which embraces past, present and future.
Here and now we are joined with Christ in and through the Holy Spirit to the saving events of God. Past and future are brought into the present as we celebrate with Christ and also anticipate his coming again. Here and now we are joined to events which cannot be repeated. Prior to the elevation of the gifts we will remember all those things which have come to pass – the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the second and glorious coming. Our remembering – anamnesis-- all those things which have come to pass for us is a liturgical act which binds us or members us to all the saving events of God.
In the context of the new and eternal covenant past, present and future are joined together. Permeating these dimensions is the cross of the Lord. Before the creation and outside of time the cross was divinely foreordained as the antidote to Adam’s transgression. “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers…with the precious blood of Christ. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.”(1 Peter 18-20) The cross of the Lord is an ever-present reality. Without the cross there is no new and eternal covenant.
Unless we accept the cross, unless we accept Jesus as saving the world by voluntarily ascending the cross, we cannot enter and celebrate the new and eternal covenant. St. Paul stresses this in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”(11:26)
The past is one with the present. The future is inaugurated here and now. Standing among us is the one high priest, Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. He who takes upon himself our sin and mortality beckons us to become one with him. By offering himself, the one high priest enables us to become one with him and each other. As concelebrants with the one high priest we are forged by the Spirit into the living temple of Christ’s body. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”(1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
As participants in the one cup and bread of Christ, as members constituting his temple and body, we await his second and glorious coming. But waiting cannot be equated with idleness or indifference. As the new people of God we keep vigil by being actively engaged in proclaiming that through the cross joy has come into all the world. As the new people of God we struggle to continue the ministry of the one high priest who in offering himself beckons all to enter the mystery of the new and eternal covenant. Amen.
Copyright © 2007 by Father Robert M. Arida