daily biblical sermons


The Eucharist is the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world made present for us
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Holy Thursday of the Lord's Supper, April 09, 2020
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, Psalm 115, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-15


 

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

 

 

Today is Holy Thursday, the day on which we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist and of the priesthood. On the night before Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the world, he instituted the Eucharist, which makes present for us Christ’s saving act on the cross. Jesus’ death on the cross was a propitiatory sacrifice, for “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2 NKJV).  Since Jesus’ death on the cross was a propitiatory sacrifice that propitiated or satisfied divine justice for our sins for us by suffering their just punishment for us, instead of us, in our place, as our substitute, the Mass, or the Eucharist, which makes Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross present to us is therefore also a propitiatory sacrifice; not another sacrifice, nor a repeated sacrifice, but rather it re-presents or makes present to us the one finished unrepeatable sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the salvation of the world so that we can offer it together with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world.

 

 

This is the one and only sacrifice that actually takes away our sins, which are our greatest enemy, for they alienate us from God, because we owe God a debt of just punishment for them, which we cannot pay, for it is eternal death in hell.

 

 

Since God is all just, he cannot just wave our sins aside and forgive us. If he were to do that, he would contradict his own nature as all just, which means, that he justly punishes every sin of every person. The problem is that God is also all merciful. This is a problem, because one cannot be all merciful and all just at the same time, because these two attributes are mutually contradictory – even in God! If God in his mercy simply forgives our deadly sins without any punishment, he is no longer an all-just God. And if God in his justice justly punishes all our sins, he is no longer an all-merciful God. So how did God solve this problem to be both all just and all merciful at the same time?

 

 

To solve this problem God developed a plan of salvation, whereby he would send his only Son, incarnate in a human nature, to suffer our just punishment for our sins for us by dying vicariously for them on a cross. In this way the all-just God can be all merciful without contradicting his perfect justice, because the sins of all who accept Christ’s act of salvation on the cross have been justly punished in his flesh (Romans 8:3-4). God considers Christ’s death on the cross to be the just punishment of the sins of all who put their faith in Christ and sincerely repent. Therefore God will acquit us ungodly sinners of our sins and declare us righteous, when we put our faith in Christ and his atoning death on the cross. Hence Christ’s death is the central saving act of God in the history of the world.

 

 

But human beings need a cultic sacrifice by which they can worship, praise, and adore God. We see that all the religions of the world, even though they are only natural religions, nonetheless offer sacrifices, because to do this is part of our human nature. Cain and Abel offered sacrifices long before God revealed sacrifices to the Jews in the Sinai desert.

 

 

So God revealed an elaborate sacrificial system to the Jews whereby in addition to sacrifices of worship and adoration they also offered an animal as a sacrifice for their sins. The animal was the representative and substitute of the sinner who killed the animal before the Lord. The animal died vicariously for the sinner’s sins, and so atonement was made.

 

 

But this was only symbolic, because an animal cannot take away sins, “for it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore God sent his only Son to be the only truly effective sacrifice for sins ever offered in the history of the world, a sacrifice that could actually take away sins. Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross actually atones for and expiates our sins, because his sacrifice, which God the Father sent him to offer (Romans 8:32), propitiated God or rendered him propitious or favorable to us by satisfying divine justice on our behalf concerning our sins.

 

 

His sacrifice did this because he was our substitute to suffer our just penalty for our sins for us (Isaiah 53:5-6). He was the one “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His [God’s] righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25 NKJV). This means that God seemed unjust in the Old Testament, because he overlooked or passed over people’s sins when they simply offered an animal to vicariously suffer their punishment for their sins for them, for an animal did not have the of power to atone for anyone’s sins. So God seemed unjust for revealing the system of animal sacrifices to the Jews.  

 

 

But he did this only to prepare the Israelites for the one and only true effective sacrifice for sins of Jesus Christ on the cross, which would make just reparation for our sins. Therefore Jesus’ death demonstrates that God really was righteous after all in passing over Old Testament sins without their sins being fully expiated, because he knew that his Son would one day fully expiate all Old Testament sins by his death on the cross. So Christ’s sacrifice demonstrates God’s righteousness, which had seemed questionable, because “in his forbearance, God had passed over the sins that were previously committed [without proper expiation for them being made]” (Romans 3:25 NKJV).

 

 

But at least the Old Testament sacrifices satisfied the human need to have a cultic sacrificial act of worship. Now that the one sacrifice of Jesus he Christ on the cross fulfilled all this, we no longer need to offer animal sacrifices. But what about our human need to offer sacrifice? What about our human need to have some kind of cultic sacrificial worship of God that gives him honor and glory and that propitiates him concerning our sins?

 

 

This need was answered at the Last Supper, when Christ instituted the Eucharist to be our ongoing propitiatory sacrifice, for it made present the one and only unrepeatable finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world.

 

 

Jesus told his apostles to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). And St. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). So we are to repeat what Jesus did at the Last Supper, and it is his apostles and their successors (the bishops and priests) to whom he gave the power to say the same words that he said over the bread and wine at the Last Supper, with the same effect. “This is my body which is for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). Whenever a bishop or priest says these words over the bread and wine within the Mass, they become Christ’s body and blood.

 

 

Ever since the Last Supper Jesus’ apostles and the bishops and presbyters (priests) whom they ordained continued to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as their central cultic act of sacrificial worship. This is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist, that we continue to celebrate to the present day. And today we celebrate the institution of this great sacrament

 

 

In the Mass, in offering Christ, together with his offering of himself, to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world, we also offer ourselves so that the sacrifice of Christ as re-presented in the Mass also becomes our own sacrifice of ourselves in love, adoration, worship, and self-offering to the Father with Christ in the Holy Spirit.

 

 

At the end of the Sacrifice of the Mass, as at the end of many Jewish sacrifices, there is a communion banquet, in which we eat the flesh of the victim that we offered, in this case the flesh and also the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ divine person with his divine nature, containing his divine mind and divine will that he shares in common with the Father and the Holy Spirit, incarnate as a man within a human nature with a body and a human soul containing a human mind and human will was sacramentalized by him at the Last Supper in the form of bread and wine. By receiving Holy Communion with faith, we eat and drink Christ’s sacramentalized body and blood for the life of our spirit.

 

 

In receiving Holy Communion with faith, Christ’s divinity contained within his humanity enters into our humanity and nourishes our spirit. This divinizes us. While remaining fully human, we are filled with divinity which is contained in the Eucharistic bread and wine that we eat and drink with faith. This profoundly unites us with Christ and thereby with God and nourishes us with his divine life. This is the spiritual joy and sweetness that we experience in receiving Holy Communion with faith and devotion at the end of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

 

It is the institution of this great sacrament of the Eucharist that we celebrate today on Holy Thursday, as we commemorate Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples before dying on the cross for the salvation of the world.

 

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