Ephesians 5:1-2
So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.
We are to be a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. We do not think in these kinds of words in our day. What is a “sacrificial offering”? St. Paul says it is the way Christ loved us. But what are we supposed to do with this idea?
I think it has something to do with the opening part of this reading from Ephesians this weekend: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” I am sure this is not the same thing as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus warns about in one of the Gospels. But, when we grieve the Holy Spirit, we are stepping away from the holiness of God. And Paul gives us a list of how people can judge for themselves whether they are grieving the Holy Spirit.
So let us return to my first questions. What does it mean to be a “sacrificial offering”? I would like to connect this with the Eucharistic sacrifice that we are here to celebrate now. The sacrifice that happens at the Mass happens on a number of levels.
Most obviously the first level is the sacrifice of Jesus from Calvary being brought present to us through the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. But if we stop there, we are not drawing close to the meaning that God intends for us to live.
The second level is something that is still a mystery to me. It has to do something with how the priest is acting in the person of Christ. The priest is called to participate in the sacrifice of Christ in a more robust way than I am still trying to figure out. So I cannot speak more on that now.
The last level I will speak of is the one that becomes personal for us all. Every one of us is called to offer ourselves in a sacrificial offering every day. But more importantly, we are to unite ourselves with Christ in his sacrifice. This is part of what it means to participate in the Mass. And, as important as receiving Communion is, I think this is a part of the Mass that has been terribly overlooked in recent decades of the church.
We are called to make of ourselves a sacrificial offering to God. How do we do that in the context of the Mass? There are two points I want to make in connection with this. The first is how we are called to place ourselves at the full and total service to God. Jesus offered his Body and Blood to us through Calvary, at the Last Supper, and at every Mass in the history of the church. We are supposed to return the favor. That does not mean we are all called to be martyrs. But we are to give ourselves that completely into the service of Christ.
How is that accomplished? These are coming right from the Mass. Let me start with something that might seem not very important. Before I begin the Eucharistic prayer, I wash my hands. That simple ritual goes back to practices of the priest in the temple in Jerusalem. They would scrupulously wash before entering the temple for any services, or so I have been told. This was especially true for the high priest before he entered the Holy of Holies.
Well, we are entering the Holy of Holies every time we approach the altar for Mass. So, the priest is washing his hands as a symbolic gesture not just for himself but for the entire congregation. We are all entering the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place on earth. We are entering to offer our sacrifice to the Lord. That is not just the bread and wine, but it is our entire lives – each one of us is called to offer the entirety of our lives at every Mass! So when the priest elevates the host and elevates the chalice, put your life in with the hosts and in with the chalice and make yourself a sacrifice like Christ. That is how you are an imitator of Christ at the Mass.
The other point comes at the same moment that I have just been describing. I have given this as a penance, believe it or not. If you are struggling with someone in particular, when the priest elevates the hosts place the person in with the hosts. When he elevates the chalice, put the problem you are having in the precious blood.
Why? Because Scripture someplace tells us that the blood of Christ washes away all unrighteousness. So you are asking Jesus to wash away whatever the problem is you are having with whomever. Then, if you are receiving Communion at that Mass, receive your life that has been sacrificed to Christ and receive the person that you were struggling with, minus the junk of the problems.
I have had people come back to me, sometimes after many weeks, who have applied this method of offering as a sacrifice themselves and especially the people that they struggle with. They have told me that the problem they were having is GONE! Now, I do not know about you, but I consider that a minor Eucharistic miracle.
So we are all called to imitate Christ so as not to grieve the Holy Spirit. We do this by entering more fully into the Holy of Holies during the Sacrifice of the Mass. We cannot enter the Holy of Holies without the purity of heart that only Christ can give. But he willingly allows us to enter into the throne room of grace. None of us are worthy to be there. It is Christ who makes us worthy, and makes the sacrifice that WE offer much more than what it was if we tried to offer it ourselves.
So as Jesus called himself the source of living bread in the gospel today we are called to be united in Christ in such a way that our sacrifice becomes a fragrant aroma before God Himself. I doubt there are very many people who do not like the smell of fresh baked bread. We are an extension of Christ himself who is the bread of life. But it means that we must be ready to sacrifice ourselves in imitation of Christ, so that we can become the very bread of Christ to the world.