Last week we proclaimed that the heart of the Gospel is “God saves.” In love He created. In love He redeems our misuse of the gift of dominion. In love He saves us from the spiritual forces at work as well. The reigns of this world’s Prince and the other principalities and powers are temporary. Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom each day. We pray and wait, but we live as those who have already seen the New Age begin (in the life, cross and resurrection of Jesus). We also long for the completion of that work, when all things will be handed over to the Father by Christ.
Today, anticipating that glory of perfect heavenly worship, we engage in human, earthly worship. It is not perfect, yet there is value in what we do. Before us, the Jews worshiped God in the Temple. Like the pagan religions that worship centered on sacrifice. One “returns” to God out of all that one has received. The sacrifice itself, usually an animal or some produce, was consumed as a meal by the one making the sacrifice (with parts given to the priest and the rest consumed by the flames of the sacrificial fire). So sacrifice was connected with communion and eating. The cross of Jesus fulfilled/completed/perfected) the Temple sacrifice. The cross of Jesus is the once and for all sacrifice of the Son. However, Jesus connected the cross to the Last Supper, instituting our liturgical practice since the early church.
From the beginning the church wrote of Eucharist as a sacrifice or offering [Didache, Clement, Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine and Patrick, among others) http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-sacrifice-of-the-mass]. Eucharist, like the Passover meal, is the liturgical expression of God’s saving act. Jesus’ sacrifice transcends time and space and, therefore, permeates every place and time; each time we gather it is for the one and only self-offering of Jesus on Calvary.
But as Paul makes clear today in Romans, we are also called to make a sacrificial offering of ourselves. We give ourselves to God only once, but renew it constantly each day.
Jewish worship had a strong component of ethical demands. An offering must accompany a righteous life, especially including justice for the poor and marginalized. Jesus emphasizes this in His own teaching; if you offer your gift on the altar and remember your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there, find your brother and be reconciled, and then come back to make the offering.
The bread, wine and our time and money are tangible signs of our self-gift, but their symbolic value is measured against the reality of our life. “Take my mind, heart and soul, O Lord!” may be a perfect prayer, but it is only when sincerely lived out that its perfection has any value.
We are tempted to think hard work and effort produced our success, but in truth we must say, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” Accidents of birth play the larger part in any success we enjoy. It is all grace and unmerited blessing. If you don’t believe me, ask a mentally or physically handicapped child, or a third world villager terrorized by a local warlord about the value of working harder…
And just as the bread and wine we offer returns to us, as the sacramental Body and Blood of Jesus, so, too, we, offered to God, also come back transformed.
That transformation/ metamorphosis in Greek, is a frequently overlooked miracle. We, many individuals, are made into the ONE Body of Christ. Like the Eucharistic meal, we too are mysteriously and simultaneously both our physical, unchanged selves and the spiritually changed Body of Jesus.
This is why Paul’s talk of self-offering moves quickly to “not thinking too much of ourselves” and remembering that “our gifts are for the benefit of the Body/Church.” In the worship world of self-sacrifice, it is no longer all about me!
In a post-Christian age, even we, who claim Christ as Lord and Savior, think as a secular progressive. We measure our gifts and talents first for their potential for self-benefit, in jobs, income and personal satisfaction. We rarely, if ever, assess our charisms/gifts from the perspective of church ministry and the community of believers. (Maybe one exception is the choir) Perhaps this is because, for all the yammering about the Holy Spirit, we have not had a renewal of mind and transformation of our thinking.
In the chapters preceding Romans 12, Paul explains the nature of grace and salvation. He transitions to today’s reading with the word, therefore. Because love and grace are true, THEREFORE, make a sacrifice, an offering of your life. Offer yourself totally to receive a new mind and heart. And understand, that process of being a holy sacrifice, is an ecclessial reality—it is churchly through and through—because we are the body of Christ together! Understand it and do it, for the glory of God’s name!