The playing of taps as a military honor guard salutes a flag draped casket holding the remains of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. A funeral procession passing the firehouse with the huge flag draped between two ladder trucks, carrying the coffin of a firefighter who died when a building collapsed under him. Ranks of police officers standing shoulder to shoulder as a bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace” while the casket of a fallen officer is solemnly carried from a church. These scenes always touch our emotions, don’t they? And they do so because they confront us with the deaths of individuals who were not just “in the line of fire”, but who willingly put their life on the line for others. There is something so powerful in that choice – to put your life on the line for others.
In today’s Gospel we hear a familiar passage that is the basis for the words of consecration prayed at every Mass. “While they were eating, he (Jesus) took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'” What I am afraid of about those words is this: Over the years of attending Mass and listening again and again to the words of consecration, we may have become less conscious, less appreciative, of what Jesus did for us. Today’s Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ challenges us to look with fresh eyes on the fact that Jesus put his life on the line for us.
It was a deliberate choice of Jesus to do so at that last supper. And then to live what he proclaimed on that Good Friday, as his body was broken and his blood poured out. He was not a policeman ‘accidently caught in the line of fire’, or a soldier at the wrong place and the wrong time, or even a firefighter in a rickety building. Jesus CHOOSES to lay down his life for us. He chooses this (point to the cross) sacrificial love. He chooses to WALK precisely into the line of fire, the place of danger, there to rescue us from all that would threaten us. And He continues to lay down his life for us as he allows his body and blood to be placed into our hands during the celebration of Mass.
Think about that. Each time Mass is celebrated that sacrifice of Jesus is made present. In the liturgy, Jesus gives his body and blood that we might be freed from the power of darkness, sin, and everlasting death and that we might grow in our relationship with God and with our fellow Christians and become one “holy communion” of love. And each time we approach this altar, we are invited to do the same – to put our lives on the line for our brothers and sisters.
What might that look like? For those who are firemen and policemen, or who have sons and daughters in the military – thank you! It IS what you do every day.
For the rest of us, putting our life on the line is less about life and death decisions, and more about those chosen, small sacrifices to love as we have been loved.
- The choice to smile at the world when our hearts are saddened by the loss of a friend or neighbor, or when our bodies are aching with arthritis.
- The decision to send a donation to a group of religious women who are organizing a bus tour to protest cuts in programs for the poor and working families in the so called RYAN federal budget passed by the House of Representatives.
- Or to protest the Health Care Mandate that threatens our religious freedoms.
- The act of picking up a carelessly tossed morning paper and placing it on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor.
- Adding our enemies or the people who have disappointed us to our list of people we pray for each day.
Sometimes it does takes hearing the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace at a policeman’s funeral, or seeing the flag draped coffin of the soldier, or the ladder trucks with the huge flag at the fire station to become aware of all the people who put their lives on the line for us. But for us who believe, it is much simpler, and in some ways, much less dramatic. Just a small of bread, and little cup of wine – and we know the love of the ONE who always puts his life on the line for us. May we learn to do the same…