Sermons

Summary: Jesus is the true sacrifice which we re-present in our worship; he is a perfect sacrifice of obedience to the Father's will

Monday of 32nd Week in Course

November 8, 2010

Spirit of the Liturgy

What the New American Bible calls “things that cause sin,” and the RSV translates “temptations to sin,” is the word skandala, which is lousy Greek but good Hebrew. The word “scandal” means a stumbling block. When we do evil, and others see it and are led to sin because of it, we have committed scandal.

Now, like the rest of our language, this perfectly good Hebrew-Greek-English word has been corrupted by contact with a culture of death. Most people today believe that to be scandalized is to be offended by another’s action, even if that action is just and good. If I don’t like what you have done, then I am scandalized. If you correct me for some evil I have done or plan to do, then I am offended–scandalized–and you are the bad guy. Thus do we invert the meaning of words in order to feel better about our own evil actions.

Paul appointed Titus to be a bishop in Crete for two purposes–to correct or prevent scandals, and to secure good order in the local churches by appointing presbyters–leaders of the local church. The prerequisites for such an office were many. He had to have effective control of his household, and especially his teenage children. Any overseer–the original meaning of the word “bishop”–had to be innocent of public sin, humble, meek, hospitable, and self-mastered. It goes without saying that each and every scandal that has rocked the Church in the past two decades has arisen from clerics who have lacked this love of goodness and self-control that Jesus and Paul insisted on in leaders. Moreover, on the level of liturgy, if we have driven people away and failed to attract non-Catholics to our worship, much of the blame must be attached to decision-makers who will not listen to the clear teachings of the Council and followup documents, and insist on doing what they like rather than what the Church asks them to do.

We have seen that the only fit gift to offer God is ourselves, and that worship with replacements is a replacement for worship. If one reads the Book of Leviticus, the main contribution of the priestly class to the Old Testament, one would think that this is an eternally valid sequence of festivals and daily worship that each year brings reconciliation with God–that is, until one reaches chapter 26, which was the original ending of the book. There we read of the blessings that the Hebrews would receive if they avoided false worship and false gods, and the curses that would pursue them to the ends of the earth if they turned away from God. That latter is what did happen. Once settled in the Holy Land, the people of God turned away from God, and pretended that their offerings of sheep and goats and firstfruits were a replacement for obedience. This “sacrificial system is constantly accompanied by prophetic disquiet and questioning.” They repeated, “more precious than sacrifice is obedience, submission better than the fat of rams.”

This is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts on the lips of Christ the words: “sacrifice and offering you did not desire. . .Then I said. . .behold, I come to do your will, O God.” The perfect obedience of Christ, who was both God and man, was the perfect offering of self that we know is the only gift worth giving to God. Jesus is identified as the Lamb of God, first by John the Baptist and last by the writer of the Apocalypse. Jesus is called the lamb because he is the perfect representation of the sacrifice of self that we are called to make. Think of the story of Abraham, obedient to the end, and about to destroy all his own hopes and dreams by sacrificing his only Son, Isaac. Prevented by an angel from doing that horrible deed, Abraham spies a lamb caught in the thicket, and offers up that representative sacrifice instead. Think also of the Passover lamb, the “ransom through which Israel is delivered from the death of the firstborn” in the Egyptian plague. These were just foreshadowings. The true sacrificed Lamb is Jesus, the center of the heavenly liturgy, “a liturgy that. . .is now present in the midst of the world and makes replacement liturgies” unnecessary.

When we see Him as He is, we will also see that what we do here is one with the heavenly liturgy. When we get to heaven, we’ll see Jesus, still God and man, with wounds in his hand, feet and side. Standing as slain, but risen again, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters.

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