To live in God, no matter what the cost: this is the image that
dominates our readings today. Whether it is in the passage from
Isaiah, where the prophet himself did not believe for a time that
his work was of any value, or the psalmist proclaiming that God
knows us from the moment of our conception, it is clear that nothing
less than total trust is what is required of those who follow the
ways of God.
At the same time, and almost paradoxically, the message
of the Scriptures is that there will be signs. Paul identifies John
the Baptist as one of those signs, and the Baptist saw himself in
the same light, as a sign of the one who was to come.
sees John as a sign, as do his neighbors, but they are not sure
what he is pointing to. They believe that something big is happening,
but they cannot yet imagine what.
Perhaps that is the greatest lesson
we can learn today - we need to let the signs of our times ready
us for the new age to come, but at the same time we need to acknowledge
that we do not know what that age to come will look like. The Baptist
still proclaims that the signs are all around, God is ever with
us, and that is enough for a people led by faith.
Whether we are old or young or somewhere in-between, the readings
this week are God talking to us. The first reading speaks of the
very top, the youngest part of the cedar tree as the source for
planting; the psalm speaks of trees bearing fruit even in their
old age, and Paul speaks clearly about our longing to be with God
no matter where we are on life’s journey. And so when we hear the
parable of the mustard seed, we can hear once more that powerful
or not, grown up, grown old, or a child, we are integral parts of
the plan of God for the universe.
It would sound like pride on our part, but the truth is that
every mustard seed, every tree, every star is also part of that
plan. Our respect for the universe, our desire to explore it from
the cosmic to the sub-atomic level, our desire to describe it in
music or art or drama, and our concern for the ongoing health of
the planet we call home, all of this can be a way of praising God,
a way of cooperating in grace for the good of all creation. It is
a way of hearing the word of God and acting on it.
So how should we prepare ourselves to hear this word? For those
who serve in some aspect of the liturgy, it is very important that
we treat people of all ages as full members of the assembly. This
does not mean talking baby talk as we proclaim the readings or greet
people or if a clergy member as we preach. But when we prepare comments
or intercessions, we need to take into account all God’s children,
from those who are just born and those go to school all the way
to those who are retired.
The focus of this day in the readings is the covenant that God
makes with the people. From the covenant in blood from the time
of Moses, to the fulfillment of our vows to the Lord in the psalm,
to the language of Hebrews that establishes Christ as the priest
of the new covenant, to the Last supper where the blood of Christ
seals the new covenant, the covenant is the reason for this day.
These readings challenge us to worship the reality of Christ
in the Eucharist, but to do so as an act of acceptance of the covenant
that God has offered us. This covenant of love is made clear in
that God holds nothing back: no grace is lacking, no prayer goes
unheard, God would stop at nothing to establish this covenant. And
so God sent the Son and continues to send him to us in the Eucharist.
This day also has an optional sequence, the Laud, O Zion, which
can be sung in a longer or a shorter form. Musicians should not
automatically take the shorter version of this hymn of praise for
the Eucharist from Saint Thomas Aquinas. It has several distinct
movements, each of which reflect on a specific aspect of the Eucharist,
including the notion of banquet, sacrifice, real presence, Communion
and salvation at the last. To take only the last part of the hymn
is to present only the last part of this great teaching on the Eucharist.
We would be better to shorten other aspects of the celebration than
to short-change this great sequence.
By What is most striking about the readings for this solemnity
is that they seem to be as much about us as about God. Yes, Moses
calls the people to look and see if they have ever seen such a thing
as God dwelling with the people, "with strong hand and outstretched
arm," but the reason he brings this to the attention of the people
is so that they will know what they must do: they must keep God
at the very center of their lives. The responsorial psalm takes
notion and runs with it, especially in the response that reminds
us that we are blessed because God chooses us. This sense of election
continues in Paul's exhortation to be aware of the "spirit of adoption,"
which makes us all children of the Most High.
All of this helps us to understand why the command to baptize,
given to us in the Gospel today, is a Trinitarian baptism. When
we are baptized we are chosen to participate in the life of the
Trinity; we are chosen by God and are to live in the community of
the persons of the Trinity, both in this life and in the life to
come. That is why the command to baptize is linked to the promise
to be with us until the close of this age, the age of the Church.