The Stairway to Heaven….
It isn’t the one that Led Zepplin sang about in the 1970’s. Rather, the stairway to Heaven that I am talking about was the one that Jacob saw. We know it as Jacob’s Ladder. Jacob, the man who would become the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel, saw a vision of a ladder connecting Heaven and Earth. Angels were ascending and descending along the ladder. Jacob was overawed by the vision. What did Jacob do in response to seeing this connection between Heaven and Earth? Jacob built an altar. He found a rock and anointed it with oil. Jacob essentially consecrated an altar in honor of the ladder to Heaven.
The idea of an altar brings up the notion of sacrifice. For when one wants to offer up a sacrifice, one needs an altar on which to do it. Why offer a sacrifice at the ladder of Jacob, the ladder that connected Heaven and Earth together? Maybe one reason would be that sacrifice brings people closer to God. In Old Testament times, all sorts of sacrifices were asked by God of the people – grain sacrifices, animal sacrifices, and so on. Jacob’s sacrifice might be a way to memorialize the moment of connection between God and himself. Jacob’s sacrifice might be a way to remain connected to God, after the vision had ended. Or the altar of Sacrifice that Jacob built might be a way of bringing the ladder back down from Heaven again.
As Catholics, we know that the altar is of the greatest importance in our church buildings. It is centrally located, made of noble material, and well-decorated. Our altars serve no less a noble purpose than Jacob’s altar. They are built for sacrifice- not the sacrifice of a bull or a pile of grain – but for the Sacrifice of the Eucharist. This unbloody Sacrifice of Jesus makes us one with the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. When we offer bread and wine, the offering of Jesus at the Last Supper, we are really sharing in the one, perfect sacrifice, renewed daily for the salvation of the world.
We sacrifice to remain connected to God. In the Christian sacrifice, we do not offer an offering of our own creation. We offer the sacrifice that Jesus Christ told us to offer. That sacrifice is offered by Priests, who do not offer it on their own power, but through the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders given to them. Who will connect us with the power of the Cross? Who will bring us to the fountain of life, which washes away all of our sins? Who will make sure that we stay connected to the God who has built a ladder to our hearts? We need priests for this important work!
We need to work and pray that God will send laborers for His harvest, for the laborers, as Jesus said, are few. We can build great altars to God, but unless we have Priests to pray at those altars, they remain only wood and stone. God lives in His Priests, in the Eucharist, and in His people. May God bless us with that connection, that vision, of His abiding light in our dark and unjust world. May God build the ladder again.