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Holy Thursday

The Gift of the Eucharist

The Gospel brings us more than we could ever have conceived of or imagined. But in this way -- this higher way -- it also fulfils our basic needs and desires. God blesses us by touching the point of human need.

Part of our humanity is the desire and need to exchange gifts. To give a gift that is visible and tangible gives a visible and tangible expression to our love. We show our love and respect for others and experience their love and respect for us by the giving and receiving of gifts, especially those that are precious in some way. Without this, our humanity would be much the poorer.

These needs and desires extend to the religion that is so universal a characteristic of our human race. It is open to us all to experience the giftedness of our world and of our very selves, to know that the source of all we are and have is a Giver from beyond our world. But religion is also about the need for us to make gifts to the divine, to make offerings which are visible and tangible and precious, and which express our devotion and our love, sacrifices that are channels of a communion between the human and the divine.

Yet we also stand in need of rescue from those things that threaten to destroy our humanity, the enemies which are sin and death. And from these we are saved by the gift of Christ. The Passover Lamb, which in our first reading saved the Israelites from the destroying plague, and the other sacrifices of the Jews, were all figures and shadows pointing to the death of Christ, which took our sins away once for all, defeated death, and established communion between God and humanity.

We were powerless to provide so powerful an offering, but God himself provided such an offering in his Son. Christ then gave himself to the Father as a gift so precious that neither death nor sin could any longer separate us from God. The Father then accepted this offering of the Son when he raised Jesus from the dead, never to die again. Exalted in glory, Jesus is then ready to make the gift of his Spirit to us at Pentecost. These are the saving mysteries we shall celebrate over the next few days and at the conclusion of Eastertide.

But though God may have provided for our salvation, what of our desire to make an offering acceptable to him, our need to give something to God? If Christ alone was fit to make a precious offering, does that leave our desire frustrated, our love and devotion without visible and tangible expression? The answer is no -- because on this Passover night Jesus took bread and wine, and gave us the gifts of the eucharist and the priesthood.

He leaves an offering that is visible and tangible and precious, such as our love and devotion require, because he enables us, priest and people, to offer him to the Father. The gift we once received when Christ became man and died for our salvation, we now receive again and again in the eucharist. Christ offered himself once on the cross, but we have received the gift of being able to share in offering him to the Father by offering him under the signs of bread and wine, whenever we come together to eat and drink and recall his death.

This means that we too can enter into Christ's self-offering to the Father. In the eucharist, we are made more deeply members of Christ's Body, more deeply united to him in his gift of self to the Father. And so we have been granted a way of offering even ourselves to God by offering ourselves to him in Christ. All this is possible because God has not only given us Christ -- he has given us Christ in the eucharist. He has not only touched our point of need for rescue from sin and death -- he has satisfied our need to make an offering to God that is not only tangible and visible, but also precious beyond measure.

But the mystery of the eucharist does not end there. It is food for a journey, a journey that ends in the joyful feasting of heaven. God not only satisfies our need -- he does so in a higher way that is more than we could ever have dreamed of.

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