(Begin readings from Luke’s Gospel).
The Responsorial (Psalm 96) is looking to the “end time”: “The Lord comes to judge the earth.” In triumph.
In 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 Paul is talking about death, resurrection, and the final coming of Jesus—all themes that belong in the Rite of Communion of the Mass!
Paul says let’s “be clear” about death. Otherwise we Christians might “yield to grief like those who have no hope.” Paul says that on the “last day” we “who are alive, who survive until his coming, will in no way have an advantage over those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, it doesn’t make any difference when we die; the only thing that counts is how.
Paul is not saying not to grieve for loved ones who have died; but we are grieving for ourselves, not for them. Jesus himself wept when his friend Lazarus died. Paul is saying what we proclaim in the climactic “third elevation” during the Rite of Communion. When, for the third time, the presider “shows the faithful the Eucharistic Bread, holding it above the paten or chalice,” he “invites them to the banquet of Christ” with words quoted straight from the Book of Revelation. The scene is the end of the world. The Lamb is before the throne. The Church is coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband. And the presider repeats the words of the angel: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2002, no. 84. The new Roman Missal gives the full text in a footnote, but inexplicably omits the word “marriage” in the proclamation. This is better than the previous version, which omitted the Lamb! See Revelation 19:9; 21:1-4).
What we are proclaiming here is, “Blessed are those who are going to die!” For us, to die is to get into the party. Nothing can threaten us. No pressure. No persecution. Not death itself. Death just opens the door to the celebration. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” The Rite of Communion is characterized by this triumphant shout.
The words that precede this shout are a triple echo of Luke 4:16-30. The presider holds up the host, saying three times, “Behold the Lamb of God... who takes away the sins of the world.” He is proclaiming as accomplished what Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel as having begun. After reading Isaiah’s prophecy about the mission of the Messiah, Jesus says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
By using the words “Lamb of God,” the presider is saying Jesus destroyed sin by sacrificial dying. The reading from Luke foreshadows this: “They rose up and expelled him from the town... intending to hurl him over the edge” of a cliff. Jesus conquered sin by taking our sins into his own flesh and going down into the grave with them. Communion is the fruit of sacrificial love. It inspires us to be a “living sacrifice” for others.
Initiative: Look forward to death as you look forward to Communion at Mass.