|2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
|October 8-9, 2016, Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C|
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.
Ever since Vatican II, all the updates to the liturgy and all our religious formation about liturgy has been focused on making us all full, active and conscious participants in the Mass. Our liturgy is very dense. By that I mean that every word, every action has been carefully designed to do justice to the celebration of the Eucharist. So it is important that we pay attention to what we are saying and doing. What does it mean to say that it is right and just to give thanks to God? Well in theological terms, to be just, or to do justice, is to give to someone what is due them. In that sense it implies an obligation. We are saying that we have an obligation to give thanks to God. It is right, not in the sense of "not wrong" but in terms of righteousness, being in right relationship to God. So we are saying that to give thanks to God puts us in right relationship to God.
Then the presider, in our name affirms that what we have just said it true, and goes on to emphasize what we have said, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and ever-living God.”
What if we really believed that? It is truly right and just, in other words we truly have an obligation or duty to give thanks to God, and it puts us into right relationship with God so it is our salvation. Not just at Mass once a week, or whenever we say our prayers in the morning or evening, but always and everywhere it is truly right and just.
Our culture, over the past couple of generations has really forgotten what gratitude is. It shows up starkly in the change in the language we use around gratitude. It is common today, when someone offers you a drink or some other act of hospitality, to hear someone reply, No I am good, instead of No, Thank you. No Thank You expresses the obligation we have to recognize that something has been offered, even if we don't accept it. It acknowledges the gift and the giver. No, I am good does the opposite. It says there is no obligation here; I am self sufficient and I neither accept or recognize any gift being offered. Or on the other side of that exchange, when someone says Thank you to us for something acknowledged as a gift, we hear No problem instead of You're welcome. Instead of acknowledging the acceptance of the gift, and the fulfillment of the obligation, we are saying it wasn't really a gift; no need to treat it that way, I really didn't offer you anything. How different this is from the old cowboy movies where the guy with the white hat would touch his hand to that hat in response to a favor or gift and say, Much obliged, ma'am.
In today's Gospel, we hear a simple story that illustrates that it is truly right and just that we give thanks to the Lord, our God. Jesus makes it clear that the cleansing of the lepers imposed a duty, an obligation on those who were healed to give explicit thanks. It is not just enough to think the gratitude; it must be expressed in person to person relationship. And in both our first reading about Namaan and the Gospel story it is the outsider who realizes that is right and just to give this thanks. The Gospel also underlines that in returning to thank Jesus in person, the Samaritan has put himself in right relation with God, which is another way of saying that he is saved.
How appropriate this concept of gratitude is to us gathered to celebrate Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving in Greek. Our gathering is one aspect of acknowledging the obligation we have to give thanks. And to put ourselves in right relationship with God, we must enter fully into that physical expression of thanks. We do this in many ways: in listening attentively to the word of God, of joining with the presider in the prayers, by singing wholeheartedly, and most profoundly in receiving communion. From ancient tradition, deacons have been assigned the ministry of the precious blood so I just want to end with a little focus on receiving Communion under both species. Now I know that there are good reasons why some people might never receive communion from the cup, and why some others might choose not to on a particular day.
But for the rest of us, I would suggest that the decision to receive from the cup or not depends on what we believe is in that cup. For starters, in the Last Supper accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and here in this Bread of Life discourse in John, Jesus clearly commands us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He doesn't say eat my flesh and if you are comfortable with it or you feel like it, drink my blood. So if we really believe that Jesus is God become human, and that he had commanded us to eat his flesh AND drink his blood, and he meant it so seriously that he said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you", would we choose not to receive from the cup? Do we really believe that this is the Blood of Christ? If so do we believe that we can become sick from drinking this Precious Blood?
To me, the fullness of the sacrament is revealed most challengingly in the Precious Blood. To me it is symbolic of our fully responding to the obligation we incur by being incorporated into the Body of Christ. Of course we all want to be nourished and to be given the strength of this divine food, this bread come down from heaven. So we take the Body of Christ and eat it. But the Precious Blood? That calls out to us to pour out our own blood, to give over our own lives for others as Jesus did, to enter into eternal life, the life of God who empties himself of everything for the life of the world. How easy it is to just walk by and say, No I'm good.
The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. It IS truly right and just, our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God.