Sir 3:17-20, 28-29
Ps 68 R/. In your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.
Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a
Lk 14:1, 7-14
Have you ever asked yourself why you come to church? I don’t mean here the reason, as in ‘I have an obligation’ or ‘because it’s important to me’, but rather the purpose, as in ‘what do I come here for’, or ‘why is it important to me’. Have you ever pondered on that? I ask because I think this is part of what’s behind the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews we have as our second reading today.
In speaking about true worship, the author contrasts the experience of God in the first Covenant with that of the New Covenant. If you remember, during the Exodus, when the people gathered at Mount Sinai, God came to them from the mountain in fire and smoke, in thunderclaps and loud trumpet blasts (Ex 19:16-20; Deut 4:11). No one but Moses and his helper were allowed to go near the mountain, lest they die. This is what our passage recalls:
…a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word may be spoken to them (Heb 18-19).
In this beginning of the Covenant, God revealed Himself to the people with power and grandeur to help them understand that He is ‘totally other’ — He is transcendent, greater than and above all things in the universe. He did this as a way to help them to experience the nothingness of their idols: there is no one like me in all the earth, says the Lord (Ex 9:14). This taught the Israelites to respect the Lord, to approach Him with fear and trembling, not merely out of being scared, but especially out of reverence for His power and greatness. God is not our equal; He is so far above us, so much greater than we can even imagine.
Sadly, this is where many people remain in their understanding or experience of God. God is fearsome; He is great and terrible (Deut 7:21, Neh 4:14; cf. Deut 10:17, Sir 43:29). Or, He is far away, beyond our access. But this is not where the Bible stops revealing God, and it’s not where the author of the Letter to the Hebrews stops either!
But you have come to Mount Zion — in contrast to Mount Sinai described above — …you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable Angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven (Heb 12:22-23).
Through Jesus, this awe-inspiring and transcendent God hasn’t remained on the mountain hidden in fire and thunder and smoke. No! In fact, He has come down to us! Jesus became one of us so that we might be able to have a true and real relationship with Him; that we might be able to draw near to Him without fear of death. In Jesus, God is not only made visible, but He’s made present. For the Letter to the Hebrews, this is the image of Mount Zion (another name for Jerusalem).
It’s no longer just Moses and his helper who can approach God, but each and every person, because God is with us! He’s in our midst! We’re no longer clouded with fear and trembling, as it were, but covered with hope and joy.
And this, my brothers and sisters, is what ought to bring us to Mass each Sunday: the joy of being able to see God, to hear Him and to be with Him, face to face in the Eucharist, and the joy of being gathered together as God’s own people. Our purpose at Mass is to worship the Lord, to be nourished by Him and to be drawn into Him, and through Him, into each other, all of us becoming one in Christ. This is how Jesus makes us His, and how we become increasingly made perfect by His grace.
But lest we become to casual with Him, lest we forget the awesomeness of God, His grandeur and power — which haven’t disappeared; the God of the New Testament is not soft, cushy, fluffy love —, lest we forget the majesty and otherness of God, the author of Hebrews reminds us that despite our invitation to approach God and draw near to Him, He is nonetheless the judge of all (Heb 12:23).
Yes, Jesus wants us to be in a relationship with Him, to be close to Him, but we must never forget that He is God and we are not. We are not entitled to be in a relationship with God, but greatly honoured by His invitation, because in doing so, He lowers Himself to us — He humbles Himself, as St. Paul reminds us (cf. Phil 2:6-11) — and He raises to Himself those who turn away from their sins to live as His people.
And this, my brothers and sisters, is the purpose of coming to church on Sundays. We gather here at God’s invitation to acknowledge our sins, our littleness in His presence, but with the hope and joy that comes from His desire to forgive us and transform us with His grace. We gather because God invites us to be in relationship with Him, to be one with Him, and through Him with each other. May this condescension of God stir within us, then, a greater reverence for Him and a stronger desire to love Him in return. May we come to Mass to meet Jesus, and being with Him, meet each other, as we worship Almighty God and are nourished by His Word and Eucharist. Amen.