Preached April 14, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
We have just listened to the Passion narrative of St. Luke. I will make a few brief remarks, but first, let me apologize for an atrocious translation that makes the word of God seem foolish.
The translation we heard speaks of an eclipse of the sun at the time of Jesus’ death. I know of no other English translation that makes such a disgraceful mistake. We just experienced an eclipse right here in Oregon; they don’t last for three hours. Moreover, an eclipse takes place at the time of the new moon, when the moon is able to pass between earth and sun, not the time of the full moon, when Jesus was crucified. If the translation were accurate, the word of God would have been proclaiming an absurdity. Fortunately, the translation is mistaken – a sort of school boy error, not the sort of error to be expected of a professional translator – a better translation would have told us that there was darkness because the sun failed to give its light. The sun failed to shine in the middle of the day; this was a supernatural phenomenon.
With that correction out of the way, I would like to draw your attention to another little detail the evangelist gives us.
When Jesus died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was torn in two. Just one little detail in the midst of the lengthy account of Jesus’ suffering and death; just one little detail, but a detail that comes at the most significant moment of all, right after the death of Jesus. We are left wondering about the meaning of this little detail. It must be significant.
Immediately we can say that the Temple has fulfilled its purpose and the time for the worship in the Temple has come to an end. Jesus had said to the Samaritan woman, The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem … The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. (Jn 4:21,23)
The Temple in Jerusalem, with its bloody animal sacrifices, was nothing more than a symbol of true worship. Jesus announced the arrival of ‘true worship’; he announced the arrival of the reality to which the symbol pointed.
When the veil of the Temple was torn in two, this meant that the symbolic worship of the Old Testament had fulfilled its purpose because the real worship, worship in Spirit and Truth had been accomplished. Everything we have just heard about Jesus suffering and death, everything included in his obedience to death, death on a Cross, brought about the worship in Spirit and Truth. For the first time in all of human history, a man has given due honor and glory to God.
On the Cross, Jesus Christ offered true worship, true sacrifice, to his Father. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanses our consciences from dead works to worship the living God. (Heb 9:14)
Jesus Christ’s worship, in Spirit and Truth, achieved through offering his life on the Cross, cleanses our consciences and makes possible our worship in Spirit and Truth.
Worship Spirit and Truth, however, does not mean purely interior, invisible worship any more than Jesus’ worship on the Cross was purely interior and invisible. His death on the Cross was very real and visible. Even the intention of his heart was made manifest by his words at the Last Supper, this cup is the new covenant in my Blood, which will be shed for you and by his words upon the Cross, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
Presently all the sacred images in the church building, including the crucifix, are veiled. The purples veils remind us of the veil of the Temple. On Good Friday in commemoration of Jesus’ death, one veil will be uncovered, the veil upon the crucifix prepared for the veneration of the faithful. This reminds us of the of the rending of the veil of the Temple at the hour of Jesus’ death; Jesus’ Cross is revealed as the worship in Spirit and in Truth.
This worship in Spirit and Truth, the sacrifice of the Cross, is continued until today, not just in Jerusalem, but throughout the world, in a visible fashion, in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
By Easter all the veils will be removed and the images not just of the Cross, but of the Virgin Mary and of the saints will be uncovered. The sacred images speak to us of those in whom Christ’s worship in Spirit and Truth bore fruit; the sacred images speak to us of those who in Christ’s Spirit, offered their own lives to God, in Spirit and Truth, as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. (Cf. Rm 12:2) As Jesus Christ on the Cross offered worship in Spirit and Truth, as the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints offered worship in Spirit and Truth, so we too – with our consciences cleansed by the Blood of Christ – must learn from them to offer worship in Spirit and Truth, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and please to God, through, with, and in Jesus Christ, offered upon the altar in Spirit and Truth.