It is wonderful to be with you as we begin together this liturgy that lasts for three days, known as the Paschal Triduum—the liturgical recalling of the events whereby we have been given life and immortality. It is an honor to be your Triduum preacher this year and I thank Fr. James for his gracious invitation.

I’m reminded of a story about a priest who preached a long and boring sermon. The parishioners filed out of the church saying nothing to the priest, but towards the end of the line was a thoughtful person who always commented on the sermons. “Father, today your sermon reminded me of the peace and love of God!”

The priest was thrilled. “No one has ever said anything like that about my preaching before. Tell me why.” “Well, it reminded me of the peace of God because it passed all understanding and the love of God because it endured forever!“

I do hope that you find my sermons understandable and that all of them will remind you of the love of God, but not because they endured forever!

“O saving victim, opening wide the gate of heaven to us below, our foes press on from every side, thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.”

I was 29 years old.  Linda, our son, Michael, and I had moved to Nashotah, Wisconsin, about a month and a half earlier.  I was sitting in the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin at Nashotah House.  It was a Thursday night during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, during which I would be matriculated as a son of the House. 

Linda was sitting off to the side, and I was sitting in my assigned seat behind the rood screen, an ornately carved screen of arches at the top of which is a life-sized figure of Jesus on the cross, flanked by four statues of saints.  On the other side of the screen are the choir stalls, in which were sitting the upperclassmen and the faculty, and off in the distance, at the east end, is the ornate altar, which was vested with a rich fabric of white and gold. The chapel was filled with the smoke from the incense.

All of a sudden I was filled with an overwhelming sense of the presence of God, accompanied by my own sense of unworthiness to be there.  I had come to Nashotah House after years of preparation.  My journey to that place had been the result of a sense of my calling, my vocation.  That wonderful gift of a strong sense of the presence of God was a confirmation of all that Linda and I, and, unknowingly, our son, Michael, had been through to get to that point.

My experience that night in the chapel was what some call a “thin” place.  There’s a barrier between the things of this world and the things of the Spirit.  When that barrier is diminished and the things of the Spirit break into this world, it’s called a thin place.  St. Thomas Aquinas called it a gate.  When we experience a thin place,  when we encounter a gate, we feel God’s presence more keenly, and we see our purpose in life more clearly.  It’s an experience of an entirely different dimension of reality, a fourth dimension, if you will.  As intense as it was, it wasn’t new to me, for it was simply a deeper experience of something I felt and still feel at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  “O saving victim, opening wide the gate of heaven to us below.” 

When Jesus gave the Holy Eucharist to his disciples, and through them, to the whole Church, for all time, he intended to provide the Church with a perpetual thin place.  The sacrifice that he was about to make on the cross would happen only once.  How would he keep that sacrifice from becoming just a distant memory of an historical event?  He did it by providing the Church, all those made members of his Body through baptism, with the Sacrament by which, whenever it was celebrated, it would be a participation in that original sacrifice.  It would be a way by which the barriers of time, place, and physicality would be overcome.  Thus, even though in the Upper Room at that first Eucharist his sacrifice had not even yet occurred, his disciples were participating in that sacrifice that was to come.  The barriers of past, present, and future were overcome.  Heaven was joined to earth and earth to heaven.  Jesus created a thin place, a gate, for all time to come.

Our Lord Jesus used the context of the Passover to celebrate that first Eucharist.  Jews to this day celebrate the Passover as if they are at the original Passover, when the Jews were delivered from the old life of slavery to the new life of freedom.  Every Passover is far more than a mere commemoration of something that happened in the past, but rather is a bringing to the present of that past saving event.

The language Jesus ordinarily spoke was Aramaic.  In writing the accounts of the Gospel, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke translated Jesus’ Aramaic word for remembrance with the Greek word anamnesisAnamnesis is a word for which there is no English equivalent.  Its meaning is basically the same as the meaning around which the Passover is celebrated.  It means to call something from the past to the present, to call to the very present a past event.  “Do this for the anamnesis of me.”  Thus, our Lord Jesus, in instituting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, gave his Church the way in which we could access the original event of his suffering, death, and resurrection.  It’s the way in which we participate in a thin place whenever we gather for the Holy Eucharist, the way in which we pass through the gate to that fourth dimension in which heaven is joined to earth and earth to heaven.

Tonight, we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Mass.  We speak of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament, the risen Jesus present with us in the people gathered, in the Word read and proclaimed, in the Celebrant, and in his Body and Blood.  Yet, every time we gather for the Holy Eucharist, not only is our risen Lord Jesus really present with us, but also we become present with him at the Last Supper, in his suffering, and in his death.  We speak of his sacrifice as a once for all sacrifice.  It never needs to be repeated.  Part of why it never needs to be repeated is that we participate in that original sacrifice over and over again by being present at Mass. 

Jesus gave us the Sacrament to provide that thin place where heaven meets earth and earth heaven.  It happened to be at a celebration of the Holy Eucharist when I had that deeply “thin” moment in seminary some 41 years ago.  I’m thankful for that experience, but I’m even more thankful that our Lord has provided the way for us continually to reach those “thin moments” every time we celebrate the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. 

 “O saving victim, opening wide the gate of heaven to us below, our foes press on from every side, thine aid supply, thy strength bestow.  All praise and thanks to thee ascend for evermore, blest One in Three; O grant us life that shall not end in our true native land with thee.”

The Rev’d Dr Fredrick Robinson is the retired Rector of The Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida, and editor of The Anglican Digest.

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