Exodus 24:3-8 Psalm; 116 Hebrews 9: 11-15; Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

On the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ there is a tendency to go right to the gospel narratives of the Last Supper, where, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. In today’s account Jesus takes and blesses bread, gives it to his disciples saying, "Take it, this is my body." He gives thanks over the cup, gives it to them saying, "This is my blood which will be shed for many."

Isn’t that the focus of today, Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist at table with his disciples? Yes, but wait a minute, what Jesus did comes from the context of the Passover and that takes us to the Jewish roots of the meal. So, let us go there, to our ancestral story, from the book of Exodus, our first reading.

Our scriptures today make reference to the use of blood in ritual re-enactment to seal our relationship with God, both in the ancient and new covenants,. We are in the 24th chapter of Exodus, the ratification of the Sinai covenant. Exodus gives a dramatic account of the ritual of word and then blood. First, Moses reads the laws to the people – a reminder of our own liturgy of the Word. It is obvious that people didn’t think God’s "words and ordinances" were restrictive, or burdensome, because they respond, "We will do everything that the Lord has told us."

Well, that was certainly optimistic of them! We know from our own experience that enthusiasm, while a good response to God, is not enough for faithfully carrying out God’s will. Hence, the subsequent rituals. First, the burnt offerings of the young bulls. It symbolizes the people’s total self-offering to God. It is called a "peace offering"; both establishing and celebrating the peace made between God and the people.

Among the ancients blood was seen as the life force. The pouring of blood in the ceremony sealed the covenant. First, it was splashed on the altar, honoring God as the initiator and principal partner in the covenant. God has reached out to the people, not because of their merits, but because of God’s love. God wants to be in a permanent relationship with them. The people realize this. Is it any wonder that twice they profess their desire to follow God’s "words and ordinances"? "We will do everything that the Lord has told us." "All what the Lord has said, we will heed and do."

And aren’t those the responses we want to make to what God has done for us and what we celebrate today? However, on our own, we cannot do "everything the Lord has told us." But we are in covenantal relationship with God who has sealed the covenant with us in blood. Christ has offered himself on the altar for us, symbolizing God’s total self-offering to us.

It is clear in today’s gospel that Mark’s narration of Jesus’ gift of himself, his body and blood, is to be seen in light of the tradition of the Passover feast, where the Jews celebrate their deliverance from slavery with the meal of the sacrificial lamb. Today, we Christians celebrate our deliverance from sin with the meal of Jesus’ body and blood.

Note, Mark mentions "the cup," not the wine, in his telling. Remember that previously in Mark Jesus asked the ambitious James and John if they could "drink the cup that I drink….?" (10:38-39) In the garden, before his arrest, Jesus prayed, "Father… take this cup away from me…." (14:36) The cup is the symbol of sacrifice, suffering and death. We followers of Jesus are invited to share in his life, the fullness of which includes our own sacrificial, self-offering. With the Israelites in our first reading, we too want to shout, "We will do everything that the Lord has told us." Well, we do try, but on our own, our discipleship falls short. But we are not discouraged because we are not on our own. God has made a covenant with us, sealed with the blood of God’s own Son. We who eat and drink of the food from the altar have a share in Jesus’ saving death and his new life.

At table with his disciples Jesus promises he will one day drink in the kingdom, the reign of God. He reminds us that the Eucharist we share today is just a simple remembrance of a past event when he ate his Last Supper with his friends. The meal, his gift of his body and blood, also anticipates the feast we will someday enjoy with him and each other at his table, the eternal banquet.

But in the between time of this meal now in the internal feast of heaven, we can work to fulfill what this meal symbolizes – reconciliation and community, welcome to sinners and strangers, God’s embrace of all God’s creatures.

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