|September 26-27, 2020, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A|
Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross...
I would like you all to close your eyes for a minute and imagine what it must be like to be God. No matter how strong our imagination is, we can never even come close to imagining what it must be like but think of no limitations: no limitations on our knowledge, no limitations of place, or time, no mortality, no weaknesses, no conflict, no inadequacy.
Now keep you eyes closed and picture the crucifixion: not the cleaned up picture we see in most crucifixes but Jesus, bloodied, exhausted after hours of torture and ridicule . Forget all the religious significance of what you see and see it with strictly human eyes. It is a pitiable sight isn't it? It is the depths of degradation and pain. What in heavens name would drive God, the son, to empty himself of the glory and splendor of being God, to become what you see there on the cross? Just one thing: love. What tremendous love! And each one of us, as well as all of us as a community, is the object of that love.
Think for a moment of a time in your life when you became or were aware someone loved you deeply. Maybe it was a parent, or your spouse, or a girlfriend or boyfriend, or maybe a child or grandchild. If that awareness was deep and more than fleeting, didn't it change the way you lived? Do you remember feeling more alive, more whole, more fulfilled because you realized that someone loved you that much? By becoming obedient to that love, letting it work its magic in you, you became exalted.
In some sense to be Christian is to become more deeply aware of how much God loves us, and then to respond to that love. And as that parable from Matthew's Gospel reminds us, that response is how we live, how we act, not what we know. What we have been in the past doesn't matter. Tax collector and prostitute are entering the kingdom of God because they responded to that love. The wicked man who turns from his wickedness in response to that love shall preserve his life, and he shall surely live, he shall not die, Ezekiel reminds us in the first reading. It is never too late to respond. Even if we have said no to God's love in the past, Christ's emptying himself, being obedient even to a degrading death on the cross gives us the chance to share in the kingdom. The only moment that matters is right now. The only action we need focus on is this one happening right now. And what action is it that will save us, will make us holy in the face of all the iniquities we may have committed in the past? It so simple it is frightening.
We need to love in return. We need to let the incomprehensible love that God has for us fill us and move us to say yes with our lives, not just our lips. If we are not already deeply aware of how much God loves us, I highly recommend signing up for the upcoming Alpha session - that is one proven way of deepening that awareness.
But even more immediately, as we celebrate this Eucharist today, perhaps we can focus on the part of the Mass that is our saying yes to the wonderful love for us that led Jesus to empty himself. We call this part of the Mass the great Amen. It happens at the conclusion of the Eucharistic prayer, when our presider sums up this love with the doxology: Through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. and we respond with Amen, a word which means I agree with all my heart. Some liturgists consider this to be the high point of the Mass because it is symbolic of our response to the love God showers on us. So look at the crucifix as we pray the Eucharistic prayer, and listen to the words. The Eucharistic prayers that we have are some of the most beautiful and moving prayers I have ever heard. Then say your great Amen, looking forward to when we can again sing it. Say Amen with all your heart because the love that you have heard about in today's readings has filled you and moved you to be more alive because you are loved. And when we are dismissed, let us go forth to share that love with one another.