Sunday, October 13, 2013

Down & Up

Somehow I got through three Masses with my yo-yo working (pretty well) every time...

   Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time    

They told us more than once in the seminary
that we shouldn’t use props when we’re preaching.
I’m about to prove just why they told us that…

A couple of Christmases ago,
a friend gave me this beautiful, 
handcrafted yo-yo.
I could never really get the hang 
of a yo-yo as a kid,
but having this one in my office
has given me the chance 
to practice every once and awhile.
As you can see…
...I’ve gotten only slightly better!

It’s the repeated motion of the yo-yo—
down and then back up again—
which captures my notice this Sunday.
Because that continual movement—
down and up, down and up—
is, if you stop to think about it,
a pattern we find played out here in the Mass.

The first part of the Mass—the Liturgy of the Word—
focuses our attention on the Scriptures:
listening to them, reflecting on them, responding to them.
It’s the second part of the Mass—the Liturgy of the Eucharist—
that I’d like you to consider more closely this morning.
And that funny Greek word, Eucharist, is at the heart of it all.
“Eucharist” means “to give thanks”—
a concept certainly on the Church’s mind this Sunday
as we hear the story of the ten cleansed lepers.
But thanksgiving ought to be on our mind
every time we gather before the Lord’s altar:
            For on the night he was betrayed,
            he himself took bread, and giving thanks
            In a similar way, when supper was ended,
            he took the chalice, and, giving you thanks
From the moment he first instituted this great Sacrament,
Jesus intended for gratitude to be at its very heart…
…and yet how often that reality escapes our notice.

Follow with me now, if you will,
the down and up, back and forth movement
that’s so familiar that we usually miss it.

Prior to Mass, 
gifts of bread and wine are prepared:
gifts representing all that we hope to offer to God,
but which are first gifts we have received.
Before they can be the work of human hands,
they are the fruit of the earth 
and fruit of the vine—
gifts come down 
from the Lord God of all creation.
These gifts bestowed upon us
are then presented at the altar 
and offered up to God.
But with God’s blessing 
and by the Holy Spirit’s power,
they come back down to us again—
transformed to the very core of their substance
into the Body and Blood of Christ.
Next, notice what the priest does
at the very end of the Eucharistic Prayer:
he lifts up Christ’s Body and Blood—
just as they were on the Cross—
to offer them anew to the Father 
for the world’s salvation.
And what does the Father do?
He rains them down 
as he did the manna in the desert,
giving them to his children as food.
This Communion with Christ strengthens us
to live throughout the coming week:
preparing us to receive new blessings,
opening us to experience daily miracles,
that we might return here
when the Lord’s Day comes around again
and begin the process once more.

Graces flowing from God down to us,
and gratitude raised from us up to God:
that’s the essential pattern of the Mass;
that’s the essential pattern of the entire Christian life;
that’s why our central act of worship
is called “Eucharist,” “thanksgiving”;
that’s why a medieval mystic could say,
“If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘thank you,’
it will suffice.”  (Meister Eckhard)

I have my doubts that it was on Pope Benedict XVI’s mind
when he scheduled this ongoing Year of Faith
that it would end just a few days ahead
of our American celebration of Thanksgiving Day.
But their proximity is instructive:
faith and gratitude go hand in hand.
To give thanks is to profess our faith that God exists—
after all, we’re not thanking thin air.
But to give thanks is also to profess our faith
that this God is an active part of our lives—
not secluded off in the heights of heaven,
but intimately involved with us on earth below
as he provides for our every need.

And so we can see at work in that lone Samaritan leper
the transforming power of gratitude.
What’s at stake is so much more
than a simple matter of good manners!
It’s a matter of taking the Lord’s gift of healing deeper
by not taking it for granted.
(Maybe, like Naaman several centuries before,
being an outsider, an outcast—even an enemy—
helped him in this department.)
Jesus’ gesture of compassion cleared up the sores on his skin;
but taking the time to return and give thanks,
the Samaritan opened the door
which allowed the Lord to get beneath the surface
and go so far as to change his heart.
His act of thanksgiving was an act of faith…
…and it had the power to save his soul.

Down and up, down and up.
Unlike with my yo-yo,
the more consistent we are with this movement on a spiritual level,
then the shorter the distance gets between the two.
But—just like my yo-yo—
when the pattern gets off course and stuck at the bottom,
the whole cycle comes to a halt.

In this and every Mass,
and countless moments in between,
let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is truly right and just,
our duty…and our salvation!

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