Today we find ourselves in the midst of the great Easter Triduum. Easter is the Church’s greatest feast, with its greatest climax on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Church’s second greatest feast is Christmas. I mention this because Easter and Christmas really speak about the same thing i.e. both Easter and Christmas speak about the uniting of Heaven and Earth.
Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation, the time when Heaven came down to Earth...the time when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
How is this true of Easter? Our parish priest, in his homily this afternoon for the Good Friday commemoration of the Passion, pointed out that the Cross of Christ speaks about the uniting of Heaven and Earth. The vertical beam speaks of Heaven, and the horizontal beam speaks of Earth – and where these two beams unite, where Heaven and Earth come together, is in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now what the priest said in his homily got me thinking a bit. But before I share my thoughts, I first need to take a little detour...
If you were a first century Jew witnessing the Crucifixion of Jesus, you would never have equated it with a sacrifice. That is because the Crucifixion by itself was not a sacrifice - it was an execution! Yet, as Christians today, we say that Jesus Christ offered Himself up on the Cross of Calvary as a Sacrifice – the Lamb slain for the sins of the world. Why is that? There has to have been something that transformed the Crucifixion into something more than an execution in the minds of the first Christians. What was it?
The event that elevated the Crucifixion from execution to Sacrifice was the Last Supper. In fact, the Last Supper wasn’t officially ended until Jesus drank the fourth cup of the Seder meal on the Cross and proclaimed “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30). What makes the Crucifixion more than an execution – what makes the Crucifixion a Sacrifice – was the fact that during the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and changed it into His Body; and He took wine, and changed it into His Blood. And more than this... it was His Body which was broken and “given for you” (Lk 22:19). In the same way, the Chalice contained His Blood – the “blood of the New Covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). So, it is the Last Supper which transforms our understanding of the Crucifixion from execution to Sacrifice.
Right now you might be wondering where I am going with this little detour...
Remember, I mentioned that the Cross speaks of the uniting of Heaven and Earth in the person of Jesus Christ. I took the detour because it was important to point out that the Cross cannot be separated from the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the memorial of the Crucifixion – in the Eucharistic celebration the once-for-all Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is made present for us here and now.
And what’s more, when we receive our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament, Heaven and Earth unite. You see, when we receive Holy Communion, we are being united in a most intimate way with Jesus Christ. It is through receiving the Blessed Eucharist that we are made sharers and partakers in Christ’s divine nature.
But even more than this is happening. Each one of us who receives Communion individually also receives only one and the same Lord Jesus Christ. And because of this, when we are being brought into union with Him, we are also being brought into union with each other. Although each of us receives individually we are being brought into communion with each other – because Jesus cannot be divided (1 Cor 1:13; Eph 4:4).
This is what St. Paul meant when he said that the cup of blessing is our communion (sharing with each other) in the Blood of Christ; and the bread that we break is our communion (sharing with each other) in the Body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16-17). Not only is Heaven and Earth united when we share in Christ’s Divine Life through receiving Holy Communion – but, as St. Paul reminds us, the whole Catholic Church is united because of the common union which she is sharing with God.
Now, bringing this all back to the Cross....
The Eucharist is nothing less than the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ – the same Body and Blood which was given for us on the Cross of Calvary. And so we see that the Cross of Christ unites Heaven and Earth on so many different levels.
Now, isn’t that an AWESOME thing to ponder?