Oct 15, 2014

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“And from the throne came a voice crying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, like the voice of many waters and like the voice of mighty thunders, crying, “Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Rev 19:5-9)

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God promises to prepare a feast for his people. What sort of feast is it? The Sacred Scriptures, over and over again, use nuptial imagery to describe the relationship between God and his people. “You shall no longer be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be called Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Espoused; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Is. 62:4-5) The feast is a wedding feast. The Lord said through the prophet Hosea: “And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (2:19-20).

When God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he had them slay a lamb, paint their doorposts with the blood of the lamb using hyssop and then eat the lamb. At the foot of Mt. Sinai, God proposes to them that he would be their God and they would be his own possession, that is, they would belong to each other. The bride in the Song of Songs says, “My Beloved is mine and I am His. (2:16).” God tells Moses to consecrate the people and to tell them to wash their garments, that is adorn themselves for a wedding, and to be ready on the third day (Ex. 19:10). It is in this context that they receive the Ten Commandments and other laws as bridal gifts. Among the laws is to remember the events by which God saved them from slavery and therefore to celebrate the Passover feast and the seven days of unleavened bread as remembrance of their God who had betrothed Himself to them. The Passover includes a number of cups of wine. There is one at the introductory rites, a second at the remembrance of the redemption of Israel from Egypt, a third at the eating of the meal (the cup of blessing), then hymns are sung (Psalms 113-118) and finally a last cup of wine.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast that a king prepared for his son. The King is God the Father, Jesus is the Son. In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus says to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Lk 22:15) On the day before he was to suffer, Jesus took bread and giving thanks, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my Body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, said the blessing, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is the chalice of my Blood.” St. Luke tells us that after this cup, Jesus says that he will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes. (Lk. 22:18) But St. Mark tells us that after the cup of blessing, Jesus and the Apostles sang the hymn and then went out to the Mt. of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mk 14:24-26) If we look back at what we learned from the Old Testament we will see that something is missing. There should be the cup of blessing, then singing of psalms, then another cup. Where is this last cup? What is it that Jesus prays when he enters the Garden of Gethsemane? “Father, if you will, take away this cup from me: yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:44) There’s the cup. And where does Jesus drink from the cup? “Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar (sour wine). And they (the soldiers), putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar said: It is finished. And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.” (Jn. 19:28-30) On the Cross and at the Supper, Jesus hands over his body for his Bride, the Church. On the Cross, the Supper is brought to completion. The Passover Sacrifice is finished.

Jesus rises on the third day and ascends into heaven where the book of Hebrews tells us that he lives always to make intercession for us (7:25). And how does he appear? St. John writes in the Book of Revelation (5:6): “I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a lamb standing as though it had been slain.” In his resurrected and glorified body, Jesus still bears the open wounds of his crucifixion and death. The last piece missing from this heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb is our participation in it.

At every Holy Mass, directly before communion, the priest shows the consecrated host and says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” In this gift, he offers us the opportunity to partake in the reality now, although hidden under signs, the same reality which is prepared for us in heaven. While we are still here on earth, we taste the mysteries of heaven. This is the sacramental and liturgical foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Jesus tells us in our parable today that many will refuse to come to the wedding feast, although the Father will have invited them. Some will come to the feast unprepared, but they will be cast out into the darkness. We must be properly dressed in a wedding garment, the white robes of the Saints, who, in their baptism, have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We should not refuse the invitation to be consecrated and sanctified, to enter into this intimate encounter with the Lord. But we should be prepared to receive him through confession of our sins and by prayers of affection and devotion. If we truly understood this great mystery, then we would give everything to partake of it. If we really understood the Mass, says St. John Vianney, we would die of joy.

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