Thursday, April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday

            Last Sunday I mentioned the words of Our Lord, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Today we see another moment in his being lifted up and drawing us to himself. He gives us a memorial before the fact of his Passover to the Father which will take place the next day. He lifts up the cup of his blood to seal his solemn covenant with us. It is a covenant in which he shares his life of communion with his Father and his Spirit, but also draws us into his mission of casting out the ruler of the world. He gives us everything in this covenant and expects us to do the same.

            This new covenant is in continuity with the covenants of Old. People have always expressed their mutual bonds through covenantal agreements - covenants of mutual help, of brotherhood, of friendship, and especially of marriage. Every covenant has mutual benefits and mutual obligations for the two parties. Today’s first reading pointed to the most important covenant in the Old Testament: God binds himself to free his people from slavery and bring them to the promised land, but they must follow Moses unwaveringly and avoid the worship of pagan gods. He is faithful to his side of the agreement by having the destroying angel pass over the houses where the lamb’s blood had been applied. But on the other hand, there are consequences of rejecting the terms of the covenant: when the people grow impatient and worship the golden calf, the tribe of Levi joins with Moses to slay their own brothers, friends, and neighbors who broke the covenant. This is a rather stark example, but it shows how serious God takes his covenants. But we should have no doubt that the covenant which Jesus has established is no less momentous. He has committed himself to free us from the greater slavery of sin and cast out the ruler of this world. The zeal of Moses and the Levites was nothing when compared with Jesus’ zeal in his battle for the truth against the Father of Lies.

            But we might ask: what is the benefit which Jesus will gain by taking on this covenant in his blood? Only this: that his Father’s plan of salvation be fulfilled, that the Father receive ever greater glory, and that we share in his communion with the Father, which for us is eternal life in the Spirit. For this, he will consecrate himself in truth that we also may be consecrated in truth. And what does Jesus ask and expect from us? Two things: that we love one another and wash one another’s feet, as he did; and that we remember his covenant daily by taking up the cup of salvation, that is, the cup of his blood in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his gift of self even unto death.

            One other thing came to my mind as I thought about what Jesus expects of us. He has blessed us with the grace of our charism as Cistercian monks. He foresaw this grace before time began as perfectly suited to who we are with the mission the Father had prepared for us. In our profession of monastic vows, we committed ourselves to a total gift of self, sealed in the blood of his covenant. And he drew us into the hidden yet unfathomable grace of the Cistercian conversatio: intimate communion with the Blessed Trinity; union in his hidden and intercessory prayer to the Father; union in his mission to save the world by casting out the ruler of this world. We are privileged participants in a unique but humble covenant for the salvation of the world.

            Brothers, Our Lord is drawing us deeper into this covenant of his blood. He loves us and has chosen us to follow in his footsteps. May he draw us in the fragrance of his holiness.

Detail of bronze crucifix by Michelangelo. Dom Vincent's homily for today's Eucharist.