Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24
The letter to the Hebrews draws our attention to two living pictures. First, there is the worship gathering of the old Law, at Mount Sinai, with Moses as the presider. There the people gathered in fear, because anyone who might see the Lord would certainly die. The worship was of a God of fire and judgment, and a covenant marked by strict observance of the Law. Sinners really had no place in this worship space, because their own rejection of the covenant marked them for destruction.
Second, there is the worship gathering of the New Covenant, at Mount Zion, the centerpiece of the New Jerusalem, with no one less than Jesus Christ as the presider. Here the people gather in joy, because the Lord embraces us to live. The worship here is of a God of mercy and compassion, and a covenant marked by “the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” Sinners are central to worship on this mountain, where Christ offers himself as salvation for the sins of the whole world.
This second mountain is where we gather today, entering with joy this holy ground, aware that with us are gathered “countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” And it is Jesus that we have come to worship on this altar, in these holy forty hours, aware that we are the holy people of God, the people he came to save, the ones he longs for.
I borrowed a tradition from Anne Hillebrand of our pastoral staff when my father died. At family gatherings, we have a special candle that we light to remind ourselves that he is with us, certainly not in a physical way, but as we Catholics believe, among the Communion of Saints. Jacqueline Skelly and I had a conversation this morning that reminded me of this little tradition. We see here so many beautiful candles burning with love for God. They are symbols of the light of Christ, certainly, but also symbols of all those people that the author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of: the countless angels, the assembly of the firstborn, the spirits of the just made perfect. All of the angels and saints and our faithful departed gather with us on this holy night to adore the Lord.
This is an opportunity to see the Church, as it were, in a whole new light. The offical Evening Prayer, or Vespers, of the Church always speaks of the Church in a special way, in the image of Mary. We have more Marian prayers in Vespers, and we sing Mary’s song, the Magnificat. But she stands in the place of the Church, being the image of the faith the Church has in Christ. And so, tonight, we have the worship of the Church gathered in the Assembly of the Lord. We’ve come to celebrate the New Covenant that Jesus ratified in his own blood. We celebrate the nourishment we have in Christ’s own body, we celebrate his complete presence, soul and divinity, incarnate among us in our praying.
But it’s also important for us to remember that the presence of Christ, and the Communion of Saints, do not leave us when we leave this holy place. As we recognize Christ our Lord in the Eucharist this evening, so we should always recognize him in our brothers and sisters, the poor and the outcast, the sinners among us, the ones who frustrate us, those who are fallen, prisoners, the elderly and the terminally ill, the unborn, and all the people God has created and called his own. Christ is present with us in a special way during these forty hours, but he is also present to us in important ways every hour of our living. As we have come to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament tonight, let us resolve to adore the Lord in all the people God puts in our path from this moment forward.
As we gather here before our Eucharistic Lord, the love that God has for us is palpable, but so is the love that God has for everyone. It is important for us to be welcoming witnesses of every person, so that they can see Christ in us, but also so that we can see Christ in them.
And so we pray with joy this night, gathered in the presence of all God’s holy ones, asking that the Church Triumphant would be made manifest in all its glory, here and now, and in every age to come.