“I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
On this evening we celebrate the three great sacraments that Jesus left for us. They are Penance (the forgiveness of sins), the Holy Priesthood, and the Eucharist – His very body and blood.
Take a look around. To my left, your right, is the Altar of Repose. It is resplendent isn’t it – or at least as resplendent as our human abilities can muster.
I recall in my much younger days working in church alongside the Felician sisters as they decorated. The side altar decked out in white and gold, tons of lilies around it, very glorious.
I asked them, and probably my mom too, the very same question:
Let’s take a little detour to Christmas. It wasn’t that long ago. In the very same spot, we had the Szopka, a castle like structure similarly of gold and light. People ask me quite frequently:
You don’t really “get” the Szopka until you study it closely. If you look inside it, right in the center, is the poverty of the manger. That poverty is not hidden from us at all, yet it is surrounded by glory. Those who came to that poor manger on the night of Jesus’ birth understood the glory of God as well – they could perceive it despite the exigent circumstances.
The same tonight. We receive Jesus’ great gifts, and in a short time His body is taken and placed in the Altar of Repose. The why is exactly as in the Szopka. Jesus was pulled and dragged all around after His arrest. He was hurt and insulted, spat upon, and finally thrown into prison. This altar represents that prison in spite of its exigent circumstances.
Don’t misunderstand, prison for Jesus and in that day was not the Schenectady County Jail, nor even Attica or Sing-Sing. It was a pit, cold, damp, filled with human waste. It was crowded and Jesus likely stood all night in pain, His wounds becoming infected, His sacred head pounding from the blows. The jailers – masters of cruelty. they had their sport with Jesus too.
Yet amid all this, as in the midst of the poverty of the manger, Jesus’ light shone. His glory was all around.
The glory of Jesus’ light constantly showed. It showed to the teachers in the Temple. It showed as He opened the eyes of the blind to see – both physically and metaphorically. It showed as He opened the ears of the deaf to hear. It showed in His feeding of the crowds. His light shone as led all in prison to freedom. It shines from the Altar and from the cross. People who encounter Jesus receive and perceive the light of His glory!
We, a people who were once in darkness now live in the light of Jesus’ glory. We who were once not a people at all are now bound together in the great family of Christ. In that dark and hopeless place where Jesus was to spend the night – light entered.
Sadly, those with and around Jesus on that night failed to see His light. They would not open their eyes and they would not hear. They stayed in a far worse prison constructed of anger and hatred. But we, we have encountered Jesus’ light, and we live in it. His light beams in and from us.
As we have received His great gift of forgiveness and the Word, and as we will receive the magnificent gift of His body and blood as His apostles did this very night, let us recognize the glorious light that fills us and surrounds us. Then, as we place His most sacred body into the Altar of Repose let us realize that no external thing can ever suppress Jesus’ light and glory.