The world is full of great love stories.
We see them in literature and film and in history:
stories like Casablanca, Pride and Prejudice, and Titanic.
Lovers like Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester,
even Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary.
We all relate to a good love story.
What makes them so powerful
are the obstacles that the lovers try to overcome.
Sometimes they’re successful
and their story ends in joy;
and sometimes they’re not
and the story ends in tragedy.
But they remain great stories all the same.
The greatest love story of them all
is the story we begin to tell again this evening,
this Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
It is the story of Jesus’ love for his Church.
The Bible has been called the greatest story ever told.
We might call the three days of the Easter Triduum
the greatest love story ever told.
It’s the greatest love story ever told for three significant reasons:
First, it’s a true story, a real story, an historical story.
It’s not something from the mind of Shakespeare
or Jane Austen or Hollywood.
It’s the true story of the love of Jesus.
And the second reason it’s the greatest love story ever told
is because of the unique way Jesus overcame the challenges of love.
Every love has challenges,
but not every love can overcome them.
The first challenge lovers face is the challenge of saying goodbye.
In love there’s always a leaving, a departing.
Rick stays behind in Casablanca so Ilsa can leave safely.
Rhett Butler abandons Scarlett O’Hara.
Jack sinks slowly under the freezing water
while Rose cries “Come back,” as the Titanic sinks beneath the sea.
For lovers there’s always a time of saying goodbye.
This was an especially difficult challenge for Jesus.
He “knew that his hour had come.”
But “he loved his own in the world
and he loved them to the end.”
He wanted to stay, but he had to go.
It was the will of his Father.
He loved his Father and he loved his friends.
“Two loves in conflict. Which would yield?”
Jesus’ solution to that conflict shocks the world to this day.
“He did go and he did stay,
left us and remained with us.”
What was Jesus’ solution? The Real Presence.
On the night of the Last Supper he said,
“This is my body….This is my blood.”
He is present in the Blessed Sacrament and his presence is real.
The man who could be seen with the eyes of the body left us,
but the man who can be seen with the eyes of faith remains with us.
A second great challenge of love
is the desire to give up everything for the beloved;
“to give until you can give no more,
to lay down even life for the beloved.”
Every true love is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the beloved.
Jesus wants to save his people. He wants to give everything.
“Jesus would gladly have died a thousand deaths for us,
would gladly have died daily.”
But a person cannot die daily.
A lover cannot die a thousand times for the beloved,
but only once.
St. Paul said it clearly:
“Christ, having risen from the dead, dies no more.”
But this is greatest love story ever told,
and at the Last Supper
Jesus has a solution that again rocks the world.
“Each hour of the day, all over the world,
a priest brings down on an altar
the Victim of Calvary.
Not that he dies again;
but the Christ who rests on that altar is the same Christ,
wounds and all,
who died once for all on the cross.”
Jesus’ solution: The Mass.
On the night of the Last Supper,
he says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
His sacrifice is made present again at each and every Mass.
And the final challenge that all lovers face
is how to achieve love’s deepest desire: union.
Love seeks to be one with the beloved
in perfect, unending, union:
body to body,
heart to heart
soul to soul.
But such a union happens only in heaven.
That’s what heaven is—complete and total union with God who is Love.
And yet the Bridegroom, Jesus, longs for perfect union
with his Bride, the Church.
How does Jesus solve this final problem of love?
How does Jesus unite with his beloved here on earth?
Here is how theologian Walter Burghardt describes it:
“He gives himself, but beneath a veil;
unites himself, but without making himself felt;
a passing thing, but wonderfully real,
and a daily thing;
not heaven, but awfully close.”
What is Jesus’ solution? Communion.
At the Last Supper Jesus said,
“Take and eat…Drink of this…”
We unite with our beloved Jesus
every time we come forward for Communion.
The Real Presence.
These are the ways that Jesus overcomes the great challenges of love,
and that is the second reason why his story
is the greatest love story ever told.
But for those of you keeping track,
I said that there were three reasons this love story is the greatest,
but I’ve only given two:
First, that this great love story is true,
and second, that Jesus has overcome love’s challenges.
The third and final reason this love story is so compelling,
so powerful, and so beautiful,
is that we are intimately bound up in it.
This is not someone else’s story.
It is our story.
We are the beloved of Jesus,
in this real and ongoing true story
of the one who conquered the great challenges of love
There are many great love stories in the world,
but each of them is merely a shadow of the one great love story
in which we find ourselves here at this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.