Thursday, 5 February 2015

Week 4 (Year 1) Thursday -- 5 February 2015

Readings: Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24; Psalm 48; Mark 6:7-13

Some years ago a colleague decided to take Jesus more or less at his word and set out to cross Ireland taking nothing for the journey. (I imagine he brought rain gear. And he went alone rather than with a companion.) As the day drew to a close he would ask for accommodation at some house near where he was, offering to celebrate Mass in return for bed and breakfast. He had no difficulty finding places to stay and brought the gift of the Eucharist into people's homes.

We still refer to Hebrews as a letter although it is not much like a letter. There is no greeting at the beginning. It gets straight down to business. There is some tidying up at the end, a kind of signing off, with a reference to Timothy and greetings from the saints in Italy. The author says 'I have written to you briefly' which does not seem correct if he is referring to the whole document. Perhaps he is talking about the note added at the end. And thankfully he is not correct, for Hebrews is a rich, rich text.

It looks and feels more like a homily than a letter, a conference explaining how Jesus fulfills biblical types and figures. He brings a new covenant, is a different kind of priest, establishes a new liturgy, gives a new law, offers a new sacrifice, renews creation, saves the people, and fulfills profoundly the promises and anticipations we find in the Old Testament.

The passage read at Mass today is a kind of climax to the text. 'What you have come to ...', the point at which you have arrived, the place where you are. If, as some scholars think, it is a homily, then it feels very much like a liturgical homily, a homily given at the Eucharist. The text recalls the theophany of Mount Sinai, and the sealing of the covenant, the ways in which God revealed his presence, power and majesty. There is noise and thunder, flame and storm, darkness and fear. But 'what you have come to' is not Mount Sinai but the Eucharist. You have come to Mass.

What we have come to will seem simple, ordinary, it may be routine. But it is still majestic, awe-inspiring, and tremendous. When my colleague celebrated the Eucharist in a quiet Irish living room, with a few people gathered round the hearth or in the kitchen, what he brought with him into that house was Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, innumerable angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, a judge who is God of all, the spirits of just men made perfect, Jesus the mediator of this new covenant, and sprinkled blood (for a covenant must be sealed in blood) that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.

So he was not travelling alone after all. In return for the bread they gave him, he was privileged to share with them the bread of heaven. They invited him to cross their threshold and he led them across another threshold, one that ushered them into eternal and infinite spaces, making them participants in the heavenly liturgy, filling their house with the court of heaven. And at the centre of that court the one who sends us and calls us, Jesus, mediator of the new and everlasting covenant sealed in his graciously eloquent blood.

No comments: