Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16,22-26
Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the feast of the Holy Eucharist and we see Jesus as a High Priest who enters the Holy of Holies to bring reconciliation between God and man; the one who gives himself as our food and drink and chooses to remain with us and finally he is the sign of the new and eternal covenant. Two words echo through our readings of the day, namely, Covenant and Blood. Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrificial victim on the people and made the original covenant. Jesus shed his blood on the cross for our sake and made a new covenant of his blood, to build a new bond of relationship. He gives us his own body and blood as our food and drink, a sign of the fulfilment of the covenant. In every celebration of the Eucharist the covenant is renewed.
A covenant is generally understood as a special agreement. The idea of the covenant is one that pervades the whole of the Hebrew Testament and is carried on into the Christian Testament. The word ‘covenant’ and ‘testament’ are the same in meaning so it is significant that this word is used to describe the a personal relationship between two persons. It is a contract made between two persons with the obligation to perform something concrete and good for the other. A covenant is an agreement, a solemn agreement between two parties. From the earliest times, God is shown as making such agreements with his people. However, throughout the Bible we see God’s people failing to fulfil their part of the covenant, while God remains fully faithful to his people. Their leaders then appeal to God for mercy and patience and we see God is ever forgiving. Generally when we make a contract with someone it breaks when one does not follow the required prescription. However it is not so with the covenant where the party has to fulfil the norm agreed upon even when the other party fails. That is what God does with the covenant. No matter how often people fail in it, he keeps his promise; he remains faithful to his people. Through Jesus we have an eternal covenant with God and Eucharistic celebration is the renewal of this covenant. We share his body and blood and fulfil the covenant that he has made for us.
One of the most solemn description of a covenant is given in today’s First Reading from the book of the Exodus. Moses had just received the Law from God on Mount Sinai and he now presented it to the people. With one voice they responded: “We will observe all the commands that the Lord has decreed.”This promise was then ratified by a solemn ritual. Moses first built an altar at the foot of the mountain and erected twelve standing stones around it. The altar represented God and the stones the twelve tribes of Israel. They sacrificed the animals and sprinkled the blood on the people as the sign of the covenant they made with God and Moses said: “This is the blood of the Covenant that the Lord has made with you.” The other half of the blood was sprinkled on the altar.
We heard in today’s Gospel Reading, “While they were eating their supper, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body. Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus commanded us to celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, to eat His Body and to drink His Blood. In John’s Gospel Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In the next passage he says: “Very truly.” “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” To Nicodemus Jesus says: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” But to be one with Jesus he clearly says we to eat him and drink his blood. Hence we become a new creation by dying with Christ, being buried with Christ and having resurrected with Christ, but the soul has no life in it without the Body and Blood of Christ.
The participation in the body and blood of Christ takes place at the Eucharistic table. At the Last Supper when Jesus shared his Body and Blood, he asked the disciples to do it in memory of him or in other words to celebrate the Eucharist in his name. Eucharist is a symbolic sacrificial meal, celebrated together in a community in the name of Jesus to fulfil the covenant and at the same time to indicate the oneness in the mystical body of Christ. Hence Eucharist is a meal. A meal is celebrated by people who are like minded and are ready to share their life with one another. Hence we celebrate the meal at every great occasion, like a birthday, wedding death and or occasion when there is joy to share and sorrow to express. Meal becomes a sign of unity and brings the feeling of togetherness.
Eucharist is a sacrifice. Sacrifice is offered out of love for the sake of the other and the person who offers the sacrifice is willing to share what is most precious to him and it will always involves a pain. Jesus offered his own body as a sacrifice and fulfilled it on the cross when he offered his very person and life for our sake. He himself connects the sacrifice and love in the context of giving his own life for the sake friends.
Eucharist is a communal meal. It is done in the context of the community and therefore no individual can offer the Eucharist alone. It has to be offered by the community of people and there one bread is broken and shared. When Paul speaks to the Corinthian community he stresses this oneness of the community and calls on them to share the meal together without any division between the rich and the poor. The reason for this is that Jesus took one bread and broke it to share with his disciples to be united with himself.
It is a symbolic meal. Our life is full of symbols and we use them profusely. It is these symbols that make our communication meaningful. Jesus uses the symbol of the meal to show his oneness with the people and also to celebrate his sign of love for us. What is used in the simple normal meal is a symbol of the life and love of Christ. The Gospel today brings us to the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. It is the first day of Unleavened Bread, the day when the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the Pasch was celebrated. It was the biggest event for the Jews which is the sign of the liberation.
That is how Jesus, “brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised; his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant”. To drink that blood is again a total identifying with Jesus and with his self-giving sacrifice of love. Through this pouring out of his blood, a covenant was sealed between God and the new people of God. We commit ourselves to an absolute following of God through Jesus and in return he is for all the Way, Truth and Life. All of this we do at every celebration of the Eucharist. The old Pasch gives way to the new Pasch. The old unleavened bread gives way to the bread that is the Body of Christ. The cup of wine gives way to the cup of his own Blood poured out in love for us. We are to do this forever in memory of him. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us be thankful to the Lord Jesus for His Body and Blood that assures us our salvation. And let us remember throughout the week that as new creations, we are called to feed on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist so the Body and Blood of Christ may transform us in His likeness.
Corpus Christi June 14, 2009
Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16,22-26