Homily for March 29, 2018
Next to the blackboard in the Latin classroom at Newton South is a poster with the quote that some say is the most beautiful in all of Latin: “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit”, which means: “Perhaps one day the memory of even these things will bring pleasure.” The quote, from Vergil’s Aeneid, is delivered aboard ship by Aeneas to his companions after a series of crushing disappointments: the long and tragic war with the Greeks, the death of Aeneas’ wife as she and Aeneas fled Troy, leaving their homeland, arduous sea journeys, the failed founding of not one but two cities, plagues, the jealousies and intrigues of the gods, and finally—the circumstance that led to Aeneas delivering his famous line—as they drew near to Italy so that Aeneas might found Rome in accordance with a prophecy, jealous Juno sent a devastating storm that sank some of the fleet and drove the survivors away from the coast: “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit,” said Aeneas then to his companions. “Perhaps one day the memory of even these things will bring pleasure.”
As I consider Jesus at the institution of the Eucharist, which we remember this evening, I can’t help but think of all that had happened to Jesus to this point in his life. Though at first Jesus had high hopes for his ministry and for making converts and for establishing the Kingdom of God, by this time on that Thursday evening long ago, it would have been difficult not to see his mission as a failure. Gone were the crowds that had followed. He had established no kingdom. The religious authorities were closing in to arrest him. One of his inner circle would soon betray him. Another would deny knowing him, not once but three times. The rest would desert him in his moment of need, and… Jesus intuits, he knows, that he would soon die the painful and humiliating death of a criminal on a cross. Imagine the crushing disappointment Jesus must have felt this evening…
Adrienne von Speyr, the 20th century Swiss physician and mystic, said that on this Thursday evening, the last of his earthly ministry, she saw Jesus become increasingly agitated. His disciples still failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ life and of what he was trying to do, and Jesus was beset with very human doubts as to the “success” of his ministry. His human heart, she said, became more and more fearful of pain and death. It is at this moment that Jesus delivers his beautiful and famous lines to his companions: “Hoc est enim corpus meum“ (says the Vulgate)—“For this is my body.” “Hoc facite in meam commemorationen:” “Do this for the remembrance of me.”
I have no doubt that many of us here—perhaps most—have known crushing disappointment. As we look at our lives we might see: anything from not getting the grade we wanted or into the college we wanted, to not getting the job or promotion we wanted, to not having reached the secure financial position we had imagined, to never quite having the relationship with our parents or our children or our grandchildren that we had wanted, to not having found the inner peace or joy that we had sought, to a failed relationship, to a difficult medical diagnosis, to the death of someone dear to us, to—perhaps for some of us, like Jesus—staring down our own imminent death. I have a hunch that we know crushing disappointment.
In this place of crushing, Jesus—this evening himself experiencing crushing disappointment—gives to us a sacrament of crushing. In these grapes crushed, in this wheat crushed, Jesus places his own self—“This is my body;” “This is my blood”—so that, for those who receive this sacrament, we might know we are not alone, that Jesus has been there and is there with us. And that, having shared in his death, we might also come to share in his resurrection. The sacrament that Jesus institutes this evening is a sacrament of hope. Of hope that light will overcome darkness, that weeping will someday turn to joy, that things fallen will some day be raised up, that things broken will some day be restored, that relationships sundered may someday be reconciled, that the powers of sin and death must someday cede to life.
It may seem we are asking much of this bread and wine, for it to give us such hope. But what Jesus did on that Thursday evening so long ago the Church has done ever since. Jesus puts himself—his divinity—into this bread and wine so that—as he stared at death in his humanity—he might give us his Church, his divine presence, his hope, his life. “Perhaps one day the memory of even these things will bring us pleasure…” “This is my body.” “Do this in memory of me,” will bring us life. As we share in his Passion and death over the coming days, may his body and blood that we receive this evening bring us to share also in the power of his resurrection.