Holy Week Message from President Larson

Dear Church,

On this Maundy Thursday, and entering the deeper darkness and light of the holy weekend beyond, I invite you to contemplate with me for a moment a word.  It is a word that we use less in our particular ministry tradition and vocabulary; and a word for which we may initially have more shivering associations, as in shootings, hysteria, exodus, cancer, and casualty.
The word is “mass.”

Before going further with that word, please oblige a little detour.  My morning reading today had me in Exodus 12, and its telling of the provision and promise of the Passover.  A few lines from the chapter and some personal reflection…

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. (vv1-2)
(Yes, Advent begins the Church calendar, but this night, in a sense, re-starts the life and year of God’s people.)
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.  If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. (vv3-4)
(Community matters – the instruction is to the whole community, and the Passover meal and its significance is deeply communal in which family and neighbor are closely considered and included.)

Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs… The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you… “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival [“feast” ESV] to the Lord—a lasting ordinance… “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. (vv 7, 13, 14, 17)
(This is a day for Feast, and a feast always includes others and anticipates their arrival – this is a day and feast for the ages; a festal day and feast for generations yet arriving.)

Now back to “mass.

Of course, there is that part of the Church for whom mass describes the hour of holy service, the word derived from the Latin “Ite, missa est” (literally “Go, it is sent”) and specifically the sending out of Christ’s gospel and His people as the final part of the liturgy. There really is an “exodus” inherently intended in the mass.

But then there is another way in which we might hear the word, and especially this night as we gather and commune en masse.  Tomorrow, also, we will stand beneath and collectively look up to His battered body; on Saturday the upper room of followers huddles in wait; and on Sunday the disilluded and dispersed are reconvened to see and hear and touch (and be sent by) the Risen One.

It is Christ’s body that brings His Body, the Church, together around a common table. It is the recognition and receiving of Him, His own very body, that bonds and brings us to see and receive each other. If there is a mass of being sent out, there is also a mass of being gathered.  And, of course, it is this gathering from which we are sent, and to which we perpetually return and are sent again.

So, of course, my eyes locked on to the words of C.F.W. Walther at the end of my morning reading today:

Consider, beloved Christians, that when you receive the blessed cup and the blessed bread, each one partakes of the body and blood of Christ; they are both common to all of you. You come into body-and-blood fellowship with one another. For just as many grains become one bread, so in the Holy Supper, you, though you are many, become one Body, one mass, because you are partakers of the one bread and with it one and the same body and blood of Christ.

Because of the presence and participation of the body of Christ, the Holy Supper is a meal of the most intimate fellowship and, therefore, at the same time, the highest love-meal. Just as fervent love is demanded, so fervent love is delivered. We all come together, as children of the same family, to the table of our common, heavenly Father. As great as the distinction between communicants in civic life may be, in the Holy Supper all distinctions evaporate. We are all the same, in that we each eat the same earthly and heavenly bread and drink the same earthly and heavenly drink. In this Meal, the subject and his king, the slave and his master, the beggar and the rich, the child and the old man, the wife and the husband, the simple and the learned, truly all communicants stand as the same poor sinners and beggars, hungry and thirsty for grace. Although one may appear in a rough apron while another in velvet and satin, adorned with gold and pearls, when they depart, all take with them that for which they hunger and thirst: Christ's blood and righteousness as their beauty and glorious dress. No one receives a better food and better drink than the other. All receive the same Jesus, and with Him, the same righteousness. 1

CLB friends: This. This we need. This we receive this eve. This our world and neighbor need from us; and this by Jesus’ gift we are.

- Paul
1 Walther, “Treasury of Daily Prayer”, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Concordia Publishing.
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