13 April 2017
Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Psalm 78:14-20, 23-25
1 Corinthians 11:23-26(27-32)
Many of you know that I have become quite a fan of Instagram. Both on my own account and for the parish, I love sharing pictures. I like Instagram way more than Facebook these days. It is both more and less personal and it is much less of a platform for ideology, although I think we are equally prone on both to the work of shaping our own self-image—but that’s ths subject for another discussion. There is something really pure and joyful about sharing pictures of the beautiful happenings at church, the flowers coming up in the city, the effects of light on buildings, and yes, my dog.
There is one image I have wanted to share with you all for a number of years now (even before there was an Instagram) and I can’t make it work no matter what camera I use. It is almost impossible to capture and at best it would just turn into a weird mirror selfie of sorts. The image that has struck me and that I have wanted to share with you is the reflection I see in the chalice at the elevations. It is something I have noticed right from the moment I began celebrating mass ad orientem—that is to say with the altar against the wall and the people behind me—and I am moved by it every time I say mass, be it low mass at the Lady Altar or solemn mass at the High Altar.
I pray: “Likewise, after supper, he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.’” I then genuflect, rise, take the chalice, and carefully raise it above my head so everyone can see it. Sometimes in that moment I recall my liturgics professor’s quip that in Medieval England people were known to shout, “heave it higher, Sir John!” as the priest raised the cup. More often, however, I look at the convex silver surface of the chalice and I see not my own reflection, but that of everyone gathered behind me at mass.
I see in the reflection of the chalice a wide-angled—almost fish eye—view of you. I see you all, kneeling in the pews, making the sign of the cross. I see in that instant, reflected back at me, the very body of Christ waiting to make their communion, waiting and watching and praying as they prepare to take the blood of Christ in that cup into their own bodies so that the one body of Christ may be united with the other. I see reflected on the chalice that which will become untied with the substance contained therein. You and the Sacrament—we and the Sacrament—become one and the same.
This is the mystery and the beauty of the Eucharist. When Jesus dined with his disciples on that night before he was handed over to suffering and death he did more than spend a few last hours with them. In that meal, he left them instructions on how they were to carry on after his departure, when he would no longer be with them in the way they had experienced his presence up to that point. He left them an event, an occasion that they could enact over and over again in which he could be with them, become one with them.
In the Eucharist that Jesus gave us on the first Maundy Thursday, we have the primary Sacrament—an occasion in which God and God’s love is specially present with us—in which we reaffirm our connection to God in Christ and with each other. It is the Sacrament of unity, of reconciliation, of atonement. In the Eucharist we behold Christ, who loved us so much that he risked and sacrificed everything that we might become one with God, one with Love, Love’s self. In receiving the Eucharist, we become bearers of that love into the world and in and through us, others have the ability to behold the face of Christ, behold God, behold Love.
In a little while, we will process with the Sacrament to the Altar of Repose so it will remain safe until the Holy Communion tomorrow on Good Friday. In that procession, as I walk with the sacrament, you will see yourselves, much as I see you reflected in the chalice. You will see what you have become as a partaker in the Eucharist.
Each of us is a member of the Body of Christ. Each of us in receiving the Sacrament reaffirms what we promised in our baptism: to become bearers of divine love into the world. Each of us leaves this place strengthened and part of something larger than ourselves ready and able to do that hard work I talked about on Palm Sunday, the hard work of living our Christian vocation in the world, of taking up the Cross, the depths of whose meaning we will experience tomorrow.
Andrew Charles Blume✠
New York City
Maundy Thursday, 13 April 2017
© 2017 Andrew Charles Blume