The voice of God thunders, a King is lifted up on a cross between two common criminals, blood flows from his broken body. Women cry. A tomb is empty. God’s glory shines forth and His body and life are freely given so that all those present can get to heaven. Angel choirs sing. Heaven and earth meet.

Everyone witnesses a sacrifice, a death, and a resurrection.

And that all happens before the second communion song.

If you’ve been to Mass recently, you’ve also been to the foot of the Cross. If you’ve received Eucharist this past week, you’ve been at the Last Supper. You experienced the singular death and resurrection of Christ – and I bet at least once you wondered why you had to sing so many verses to the closing song.

If you’ve ever wondered why the Mass is the most important thing we do each week, why we call it the Source and Summit, and how simple bread and wine can constitute a sacrifice – then wonder no further.

A Sacrifice Planned Through History

When Jesus dies on the cross, heaven opens up for us. The death and resurrection of Christ are events that are of eternal significance. The Passion of Christ happened once, but it echoes throughout history. It is so important that Jesus didn’t allow it to just be something that we read about as ancient history – He made sure that He let us know it was an event to be lived each time we celebrated the Eucharist.

Jesus did this by instituting the Eucharist – and it was no accident how it happened.

To fully understand the significance the Last Supper, we need to jump all the way back to the Exodus.

Jesus institutes the Last Supper on a very particular occasion – the Passover. This feast was sacred for Him; His family celebrated it every year as did all the faithful Jewish people. Passover commemorates God’s saving action; God took the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Before this exodus, God institutes a special meal for the Israelite people. They need to find an unblemished lamb, sacrifice it, and then put some of the lamb’s blood on their doorpost. It is this action that saves the people from death and allows them to begin their escape.

Jesus is celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples. There is bread and wine (two necessary components for Passover – but no lamb (because Jesus is the lamb (boom! (this is a lot of parenthesis)))).

Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples, but He offers it by saying, “This is my Body.” Jesus is connecting the offering of the Eucharist with His offering the next day on the cross. He is giving His Body and Blood as a sacrifice on the cross, and also giving it in the Eucharist.

Skeptical that this was Jesus’ intent? Please, nerd out with me for a moment:

Passover during Jesus’ time was traditionally celebrated with four cups of wine, each cup signifying the four promises God makes in the Exodus (I will take you out; I will save you; I will redeem you; I will take). Specific prayers accompany each cup and are sung over it before it is consumed.

The fourth cup of the meal, however, is not consumed. Traditionally, a hymn is sung over this cup. But the disciples are singing a hymn as they go to the Mount of Olives. There was no fourth cup. That cup is consumed by Jesus, before he dies on the cross. Coincidence? Not at all – Jesus planned this all to be one movement.

OK – so you say, “that is great – one movement. But that doesn’t mean that we ‘relive’ that event every time we go to Mass. We don’t even sing good music.”

Listen, oh-salty-one, Jesus would beg to differ (at least about His intent for our celebration of Mass… though He may not be a fan of the music, either).

Got the Time, bruh?

In order to understand Jesus’ intention to institute the Mass as a sacrifice, we need to go back to that Passover meal and Exodus and get a little help from the Greeks (no, not your older brother that just rushed a fraternity).

The Greeks understood time in two ways, and this understanding helped the Jewish people understand the celebration of Passover. The first kind of time is called “chronos” time. This is the time we are all familiar with – is it chronological. It is the time you experience when you are bored in class and you just watch minutes drag by.

The second understanding is “kairos.” This is God’s time; in this understanding of time the past is made present, and the future collides with us in a unique way. When the Jewish people celebrated Passover, this is how the event was viewed – not something that was remembered, but something that was relived. The past was made present, with hopeful expectation and a foretaste of the future. It is this understanding that Jesus is using to help us recognize the power of the Mass.

When Jesus institutes the Eucharist (and the Mass) on Passover, He is signaling that this event (His death and Resurrection) happen once but will be re-presented every time that the Eucharist is celebrated. The past becomes our present, and at Mass we look forward to the great wedding feast in heaven.

What’s Your Posture?

Every time you step foot in Mass, you enter into something that is not of our world or our time. You walk toward the foot of the cross, you experience the sacrifice of Christ, we receive his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We enter into “God’s time,” and given a foretaste of heaven.

How are you approaching this great feast?

There is one more story of sacrifice worth noting, here – though it doesn’t directly explain the Mass as sacrifice. Two brothers – Cain and Abel – both are making offerings to God. Abel thinks through his sacrifice and offers the best of his work; Cain is less mindful and just throws something together.

God is pleased with Abel’s offering, not because he had something better, but because his posture and disposition toward the sacrifice was sincere and loving.

How do you approach Mass every week?

Do you approach it with an open heart and humble disposition, or is it a chore? Do you bring the best you can, does Mass get the first share of your time on Sunday, or is it an afterthought or something you “try to get in… if you can.” When we attend Mass as a sacrifice, we also participate and offer up our own spiritual sacrifices with Jesus on the Cross. We bring something to this sacrifice, as well. This Sunday, we approach Christ on the Cross, we participate in the one great sacrifice. What will you bring?

About the Author

Joel Stepanek

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.) Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @LT_Jstepanek.

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