1 KINGS 19:4-8 EPHESIANS 4:30-5:2 JOHN 6:41-51
This week we’re going to focus our reflection on one sentence from John’s Gospel. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
John wrote his Gospel between 90 AD and 100 AD. It’s very different from the three other Gospels. One very notable difference is the account of the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t take bread and wine and say, “This is my body,” This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers a lengthy teaching culminating with his washing the feet of the disciples. It’s in chapter six of his Gospel that we’re presented with Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist. In this chapter he never mentions “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers what has become to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse, which culminates in the sentence I noted at the beginning of this reflection. Let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful and powerful teaching.
Jesus teaches that he’s “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a reference to the exodus journey. God fed the people with manna, “the bread from heaven.” This bread was a pledge of God’s loving care for the children of Israel and their food during their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus applied this image to himself re-defining the bread from heaven. It isn’t bread that fills a hungry stomach. He, himself, is the food for life’s journey. He, himself, is LIVING bread. Jesus intensifies this powerful image even more by stressing: “the bread that I will give is MY FLESH for the life of the world.”
In John’s Gospel, the Last Supper takes place the day before the Passover when, as
Mark’s Gospel tells us, “they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” (Mark 14:12) This is implying that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice will bring life to the entire world. In the context of this teaching, we mustn’t forget that the Passover Lamb was not only to be slain, it was to be eaten. Jesus reinforced this when he said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” The implications of this teaching are astounding.
Over and over again during the Eucharistic Liturgy we hear the term the Paschal Mystery. The Bread of Life Discourse defines this mystery. It takes the image of the Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten, and applies it to the person of Jesus. We’ve all heard the statement: “You are what you eat.” In the Eucharistic celebration we proclaim the death of the Lord – his sacrifice on the cross-AND we eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Eucharistic bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the first Passover.
Jesus is the true and eternal Passover Lamb, sacrificed and eaten by those who believe in him. Our communion with him unites us in communion with the Father, also. By eating his flesh and drinking his blood we become him, and he becomes us.
Let’s conclude this reflection by adding one more level to this mystery. We must always be mindful of our vocation as believers. Christ continues to mold the world into the kingdom of God through the work of his disciples who remain in communion with him. Let’s never forget his teaching in Matthew 10:40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me.”
EXODUS 16:2-4,12-15 EPHESIANS 4:17-20-24 JOHN 6:6-24, 35
Let’s begin our reflection today by looking at the first reading for the day, a passage from the book of Exodus. The people were getting desperate because they had no food. God reassured both Moses and the people of his unfailing commitment to them.
God had proved his loyalty to them throughout their journey. He fed them with manna in the morning, and in the evening with quail. At one point there was no water, so God told Moses to strike a rock. Water gushed forth.
The children of Israel had a special place in God’s heart, but they struggled with that relationship. During their forty-year sojourn in desert they would be challenged to submit totally to God. For this relationship to blossom they would have to acknowledge their ultimate powerlessness.
In the gospel passage we see a similar situation. Jesus had just fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish. He then left the people and sailed to Capernaum. Excited by this miracle, the people got into boats and followed him.
Jesus intuited that they still hadn’t understood the meaning of the event. So, he tried to clarify it for them. “You are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but the food that endures for eternal life.” They retorted by recalling that Moses had given them bread from heaven. Jesus came back at them.
“It was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Still not understanding. Still thinking only of food for their stomachs, they pleaded with him: “Give us this bread always.” He was offering them another bread, the bread of life, but they lacked the faith to receive it. They had to open their hearts to eat this bread, not their mouths. He shared a final teaching with them. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
What can we learn from these readings? To accept the bread of life, we first have to empty our hearts of our human desires. We need to submit to God. We need to acknowledge our powerlessness and rejoice in our total dependence on God. Only then will we come to recognize the profound hunger we have for God. Only then, can God satiate that hunger with the bread from heaven, his very life. Only then can we become like him. Only then can we see him as he is. Only then can we say with Saint Paul, “I no longer live; Christ lives in me.”
2 KING 4:42-44 EPHESIANS 4:1-6 MARK 6:1-15
“Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.” This is the simple introduction to the extraordinary event that’s about to unfold. In the bible, the mountain is the place where heaven intersects with earth. Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the commandments from God. Jesus went up a mountain to deliver the new commandments, the beatitudes. Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration atop Mount Tabor. Now, on this mountain, the disciples will experience a moment in the kingdom of God.
Jesus looked out at the large crowd. He not only saw the people, he saw their inner longings – their hungers. He turned to his inner circle of apostles with a challenging question. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” No one had any answer to the question except a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish. He offered them to feed the crowd. Was this naiveté or faith? Let’s think about this boy for a moment.
It was common practice for people to carry food with them when they traveled. They usually carried it in a sack they slung over their shoulder. This boy was carrying five barley loaves, the bread that the poor would ordinarily eat, and two fish. Although he was poor, he gave away all the food that he had. John, the gospel writer, wanted to make clear that this was a kingdom event, and that this boy, by giving away all that he had, was opening the door to the kingdom. The boy’s example was a reminder for the disciples that unless they became like little child, they would not experience the kingdom of God.
Jesus had the crowd recline on the “great deal of grass in that place.” This detail is referencing the “green pastures” of Psalm 23 where God sets a table, anoints the guests with oil and pours wine until their cups overflow. The people were told to recline on the grass as they were obliged to recline during the Passover Seder. Reclining, as opposed to sitting in a chair, was a sign of wealth and freedom. Jesus was readying the people for the fulfillment of the Passover that would be realized in the banquet in the kingdom of God.
Jesus said the blessing and distributed the five barley loaves and two fish to the crowd of five thousand. Everyone ate. Everyone was filled. Twelve baskets of food were left over. If five loaves and two fish could feed five thousand, how many more thousands could be fed from the twelve baskets of leftovers?!
This miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish is repeated each time we gather for the Lord’s Supper. At the Eucharist we celebrate God spreads a banquet table before us. We’re not fed with earthly food, however; we’re fed with the Bread of Life, the bread of the kingdom.
So, come to the Eucharist with the spirit of a little child. Offer to God everything you have, your five loaves and two fish. Let the Lord feed your inner hunger. Let the Lord free your spirit. Permit your soul to rest. Recline on the green grass of the kingdom of God.
JEREMIAH 23:1-6 EPHESIANS 2:13-18 MARK 6:30-34
In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus had given the apostles authority over unclean spirits and commissioned them to preach. “So, they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” In today’s gospel passage, the apostles had just returned from what proved to have be a very successful missionary excursion. They were tremendously excited but had trouble sharing their experiences because “people were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat.”
Like a mother hen caring for her chicks, Jesus hustled them on to a boat to retreat to a favorite hideaway of theirs for some peace and quiet. It was a shock to them that the people guessed where they were going and were waiting for them on the shore along with many others they had picked up as they walked there. The only peace and quiet that the disciples managed to get was during the boat trip across the lake.
When Jesus saw “the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them; for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” The lessons gleaned from this first missionary experience weren’t over yet. In fact, they had just begun.
There wasn’t any time for rest. The people weren’t at peace. Their spirits weren’t at rest. Immediately, Jesus reached out and touched their hearts with his teaching.
Did the apostles realize that, in his response to the crowd, Jesus was teaching them, too? Did they realize that the “Jesus ministry” would demand that they pour themselves out “like a libation?” Did they realize that mere words would never be able to satisfy the deep hunger of the people? Did they realize that they would have to place their entire lives in the hands of God before they could respond to the needs of this crowd? Not yet. First, they would have to look helplessly at the crowd of five thousand as Jesus’ command echoed in their ears. “Give them some food yourselves.”
Jesus, I offer my life to you.
I give you my all, my strengths and my weaknesses.
Use me to continue your ministry
to satisfy the hungers of the human family.
AMOS 7:12-15 EPHESIANS 1:3-14 MARK 6:78-13
We have a very interesting passage to think about today. It consists of a series of instructions that Jesus gave his twelve apostles before he sent them out on their first missionary excursion. Let’s look at the details and then see what their implications are for these early missionaries and us.
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.” Why would Jesus send them out in pairs?
In Jewish tradition two witnesses were needed to convict a person of a crime. In our tradition the presence of two witnesses are needed to legalize a wedding. These men were to be witnesses of the coming kingdom of God. The power of two is much greater than the power of one.
To strengthen their witness Jesus gave them the authority over unclean spirits. In addition to the proclamation of the kingdom the Twelve were armed with proof that the kingdom was coming; the children of the kingdom had power over unclean spirits.
“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.” What did the ordinary person wear in Jesus’ day, and why did Jesus think it necessary to specify the clothing the Twelve were to wear?
The basic garb for men and women was the tunic. It was made from a piece of cloth that was folded in half and sewn on one side. Holes were cut for the arms to go through. No hole was cut for the head. This would prove to the buyer that it had never been used but also allowed the new owner to make an appropriately sized hole for his/her head to fit through
propriately sized hole for his/her head to fit through. The neckline was therefore totally left to the discretion of the purchaser. A woman, for example, might want a low-cut neckline if she was nursing a baby.
The outer garment was something like a poncho. It was a large piece of cloth, six to seven feet wide and eight to nine feet long. It could be two pieces of cloth sewn together or one large piece, as was the case with Jesus’ cloak that the soldiers gambled for at the foot of the cross. The outer garment was used as a cloak by day and a blanket at night.
A girdle, or belt, was fastened around the waist over the tunic and outer garment giving the wearer the ability to alter the length of the garments as needed.
A kind of sack was worn over the shoulder. It could be large enough to carry food and essentials that a traveler might need. It could also be used as a money pouch. These money pouches were commonly used by traveling missionaries to carry the donations they picked up during their travels.
So, what was Jesus telling the Twelve by spelling out how they should dress? He was telling them that they must rely totally on God. They should travel without a back-up of food or clothing or money. They were to depend totally God and on the generosity of the people who would hear and accept their message.
He was also saying something about the attitude the Twelve should have when they enter someone’s home. It was rabbinic law that when people entered the courts in the temple they had to leave their staff, sandals and money bag outside. Here Jesus is saying that the home that accepts his message is a place as sacred as the temple.
“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. What place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.’”
Here, Jesus is directing his missionaries to be the catalysts of a new community. By staying in one home they could gently make the place a center for future instruction. When they left, their hosts could continue what they began or, at least, be a place from which future missionaries could preach.
His instruction to shake the dust of the town off their feet if they weren’t accepted there would have been a bit shocking for the Twelve to hear. Rabbinic law said that the dust of a Gentile land was defiled. When Jews had to enter Gentile territory they were obliged to shake off every bit of defiled dust from their feet before entering Jewish territory. In this statement Jesus is comparing Jews who don’t listen to, or accept, the message of the kingdom to the Gentiles who were not among the chosen people.
“So, they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Here we discover the message of the Twelve’s preaching: repentance. The word used in the scripture is metanoia. It doesn’t mean simply admitting wrongs done in the past and making the commitment not to repeat them. It means changing the entire direction of one’s life. It means becoming a new person, one who sees differently, thinks differently, relates differently. It means taking on the attitude of the disciple who depends totally on God. It means committing to a new community – a kingdom community. It means freeing people from their demons. It means not accepting this world and its values as our only alternative. It means becoming a new person, a new people, in the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve applies to each one of us. This week we’re asked to question our own discipleship. To what degree do I place my trust in God? How do I share my faith? Do I believe that I have been given a role to play in the kingdom of God? Am I open to hearing Jesus’ call for personal and communal repentance? Do I hear Jesus’ invitation to be his missionary?
EZEKIEL 2:2-5 2 CORINTHIANS 12:7-10 MARK 6:1-6
This is the third week that “faith” is the theme of the gospel passage. Two weeks ago, we heard Jesus question the shaky faith of his disciples when they panicked during a storm at sea. The following Sunday, we witnessed the unwavering faith of two people: a woman who was cured of chronic hemorrhaging, and Jairus, the president of the town’s synagogue, who knelt at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to heal his daughter. This week we see Jesus “amazed” at the lack of faith exhibited by the people of his hometown, Nazareth. Let’s focus our reflection on the town folk’s disbelief.
Jesus left his family and his hometown when he was about 30 years old. Being the son of a carpenter, he most likely worked at the same trade. The specific Greek word that Mark chose for carpenter extends way beyond a wood-worker. The word describes a general handy-man and a jack of all trades. He could fix a broken chair, or build a house.
In the scene, Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, returned to his home town as an itinerate Rabbi accompanied by his entourage of disciples. His reputation as a healer and miracle worker preceded him. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the town’s synagogue. The people had quite a response to him.
“They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”
The people’s reaction is puzzling. They acknowledged his wisdom as a teacher. They recognized him as a miracle worker and healer. But they hardened their hearts against him. In Luke’s gospel, we’re told that they were so upset with him when he said he was the Messiah that they tried to throw him off a cliff!
Mark tells us that Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deeds there, apart from curing a few sick people by laying hands on them.” What can we learn about faith from this incident in Jesus’ life?
One startling realization is that their lack of faith actually blocked the flow of divine energy through Jesus. In contrast, the woman suffering from hemorrhages believed that if she only touched a tassel on Jesus’ cloak she would be healed. Her faith connected so powerfully with Jesus that at the moment of her touch he felt a release of healing power.
Jairus’ story teaches us that humility is an essential component of faith. By acknowledging our powerlessness and total dependence on God we make space for God’s power, which is love, to enter us and heal us or, in the case of Jairus, to heal his daughter.
Faith is more than saying yes to a creed; it’s a spiritual way of life. It’s the relinquishing of our power to the All-powerful so that the life-giving love of God may find a place of welcome in our hearts.
WISDOM 1:13-15, 2:23-24 2 CORINTHIANS 8:7, 9, 13-15 MARK 5:21-43
Last week, the gospel left us with the image of Jesus sleeping at the rear of a boat as his disciples desperately tried to keep the boat afloat when a sudden storm descended on the lake. The disciples woke him up screaming, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
He stood up and calmed the storm and the wind. They were safe. But we left the scene with Jesus’ response to the disciples ringing in our ears, “Do you not yet have faith?” This week’s gospel develops the theme by showing us two people of tremendous faith.
There was a woman who had been suffering with hemorrhages for twelve years. She was physically worn out and financially depleted because of her doctor bills. Perhaps her greatest suffering came from isolation. In Jewish culture, any ailment involving loss of blood separated an individual from society. She was forbidden to touch people, to eat with people or to attend the synagogue.
She had heard that Jesus was a powerful healer. When she learned that he was nearby she lingered near the crowd that was surrounding him. She hoped to be able to touch him. She managed to get close enough to reach out her hand to touch one the ritual tassels he was wearing. Jesus immediately felt a jolt of power leave him. She felt his power streaming through her. She knew that she had been healed. But then Jesus suddenly shouted out, “Who touched Me?” She became frightened but approached him. He calmed her fears. “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
This woman’s faith was so strong that it attracted Jesus’ healing energy. Besides her
physical healing she received the gift of inner peace.
The second example of tremendous faith was the president of the local synagogue, Jairus. Remember that Jesus was popular among the ordinary people but not with the religious authorities. The word was already out to be cautious of this Jesus. He was very loose in his interpretation of the law and even did public theological battle with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Jairus, a public figure, took a big chance by coming to Jesus. His daughter was at death’s door. People were saying that Jesus was a great healer. No matter what the religious authorities were saying about Jesus, Jairus, in his desperation, had nowhere to turn but to Jesus. A father’s love drove him to humble himself before this healer. “He fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him.” Jesus immediately responded to his request. On the way to his home Jairus witnessed the cure of the woman with the hemorrhage. This must have bolstered his confidence in Jesus but only for the moment. As soon as the crowd neared Jairus’ house they heard flutes playing a dirge and mourners wailing. It was too late. The girl was dead. Jesus admonished the mourners saying that the girl was asleep, not dead. “They ridiculed him.”
Jesus then gathered a small community of faith, Jairus and his wife and his band of three witnesses, Peter, James and John. Before he entered the girl’s room he instructed them. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
A mere touch and a simple command was all that was needed. “He took the child by the hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, arise.’” Awe fell upon the entire crowd.
Last week’s account of the storm at sea left us with a question; “Do you not yet have faith.” This week’s stories show us the power of faith. The woman with the hemorrhage suffered for twelve years until she found Jesus. As a public figure, Jairus’ request that Jesus pray over his daughter, was a humbling experience.
What do these examples of faith teach us? The woman taught us that a person of faith never gives up. She fought her way through the crowd. Nothing would stop her from reaching out to Jesus. Jairus taught us that the foundation of faith is humility. This prominent man fell to his knees before Jesus. Faith involves trust and reliance, conviction and assurance. Faith can’t be tentative. Faith dwells deep in the heart.
I’m concluding this reflection on faith with the opening passage from a short work entitled, A RULE FOR A NEW BROTHER. It was written by an SSS Community in Holland in 1973 as an inspirational Rule of Life for a lay community. It contains a beautiful description of faith.
You want to seek God with all your life, and love him with all your heart. But you would be wrong if you thought you could reach him. Your arms are too short, your eyes are too dim, your heart and understanding too small. To seek God means first of all to let yourself be found by him. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of Jesus Christ. He is your God, not because he is yours but because you are his. To choose God is to realize that you are known and loved in a way surpassing anything one can imagine, loved before anyone had a thought of you or spoken your name. To choose God means giving yourself up to him in faith. Let your life be built on this faith as on an invisible foundation. Let yourself be carried by this faith like a child in her mother’s womb. And so, don’t talk too much about God, but live in the certainty that he has written your name on the palm of his hand.
JOB 38:1, 8-11 2 CORINTHIANS 5:14-17 MARK 4:35-41
This is a stormy kind of Sunday! In the first reading of the day we see Job caught in a spiritual crisis. His friends have ridiculed him for his unfailing faith and trust in God. Job has begun to wonder why God has allowed so many disasters to befall him. He’s wondering what God’s plan for him might be. What was the reason for his suffering? He’s caught in a storm of doubt.
In this passage God reveals his power and majesty to Job through a series of poetic images. “Who shut the doors of the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness it swaddling bands?” The bottom line is this. God is telling him: “Job, look and see. I created everything, and I maintain its existence! Do you think you can ever fathom the depth of my wisdom? Trust me, Job!”
The gospel passage, Mark’s account of the storm at sea, pictures Jesus sleeping at the stern of the boat when a sudden squall threatens to sink it. Terrified, the disciples wake him up. He simply tells the wind to cease and the water to calm. But he’s concerned: “Why are you terrified? Do you not have faith yet?” Jesus is reassuring them. Storms will always come. You’ll be safe. I’m with you even when you
think I’m sleeping. Just trust me.
Let’s connect these two passages using St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Here, he articulates the dynamic nature of redemption. Redemption isn’t an event of the past. Jesus’ sacrificial love is eternally being poured out for every person who ever was, is, and will be. Sacrificial love is redeeming love.
Today we’re being asked to trust Jesus and to fearlessly model in our lives his sacrificial love, even in the midst of our personal storms. United with him in this way, we’ll partake in his work of redemption.
trusting in your love
I consecrate myself
to your Sacred Heart.
Use me as a vehicle
of your redemptive love.
Help me to live no longer for myself
but for others.
EZEKIEL 17:22-24 2 CORINTHIANS 5:6-10 MARK 4:26-34
The key words for today are patience, perseverance and hope. The passage from Ezekiel is an allegory about a messianic age to come. Israel had been conquered by the Babylonians. The king, his nobles and all leading citizens have been deported to Babylon. A new Jewish king has been set up by Babylon but he has reached out to Egypt for help to revolt against Babylon. Terrible days are ahead when Babylon will bring retribution on Israel.
However, Ezekiel’s prophecy is looking into the future. He sees an end to the violence and destruction. In this allegory of the cedar tree he sees God re-planting Israel like a small clipping taken from a mighty Lebanon cedar. God won’t abandon Israel. In time, Israel will again flourish in a golden age to come. Patience!
In today’s second reading, St. Paul urges the Corinthians to remain strong and courageous as they navigate the daily challenges and temptations of life. He reminds them that they’re merely passing through this world. He tells them that they must rely on their faith to generate the strength they’ll need to successfully complete their journey home to God who eagerly awaits them. Perseverance!
Jesus shares an insight about the kingdom of God in the gospel passage. He uses two images: the mysterious process that evolves a seed into a grain of wheat, and the miracle of the mustard seed that grows from the smallest of seeds into one of the largest bushes. His examples tell us very little about the kingdom itself. He’s focusing on the process of the kingdom’s formation. Its growth is both mysterious and powerful. The kingdom WILL come, in its own time and in its own way. Hope!
While I was reflecting on the interpretation of these passages I realized that I live with great frustration and anger. Every day I pray, “Thy kingdom come.” Then, every day, I look at this world I live in.
I was born in 1948, four years after my 18year-old father stormed the beach at Normandy, and three years after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities. I was born at the beginning of the Cold War when everyone lived in fear of a Communist take-over and an imminent nuclear war. I was in grade school when I first saw pictures of the Nazi concentration camps. I was in high school when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was in college when Senator Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. I marched in civil rights marches. I protested the Vietnam war. I stood by men who burned their draft cards. And every day I prayed, “Thy kingdom come.”
I look at the world today and my frustration and anger twist in my gut. But I can still close my eyes, and I can see a beautiful world – a world at peace – a world where children don’t starve – a world without concentration camps and prisons. I see a world with clean skies and pristine oceans. I see a world where people care for one another. I see a world where love isn’t laughed at.
Ezekiel taught the Jewish people a lesson. St. Paul taught Christians a lesson. Jesus taught humanity a lesson. Of all the people in the world who carry heavy burdens, the person of faith has the heaviest burden to carry – the burden of hope. Hope in the midst of war. Hope in time of famine. Hope during a pandemic. Hope when the very structures of our society are in peril.
This Sunday is the first Sunday when the liturgical color green has been used since February 17 th , Ash Wednesday. Green, the color of new life, the color of hope. Today, I’ll adjust the heavy burden on my back. I’ll straighten up as much as I can. I’ll pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Today we’re going reflect on the feast of the Body of the Body and Blood of Christ through the prism of Covenant. The Jewish scriptures note a number of covenants – legal agreements between God and the people. The three most important were with Abraham, Noah and Moses.
God called to Abraham asking him to leave his home and his people. He promised him that he would be the father of a great people who would be as numerous as the sand of the seashore. The covenant was ratified in the context of a sacred sacrifice. Abraham slaughtered a number of animals as God had directed him. He then cut them in two and separated the parts placing them a few feet from each other. God put Abraham into a trance and then appeared as a column of fire. Walking between the sacrificial animals God consumed them in the fire. This ratified the covenant between God and Abraham. Abraham and his children would be faithful to God and, in turn, God would make Abraham a great nation. The sign of this covenant was circumcision.
After the great flood God made a covenant between himself and creation. Leaving the ark, Noah slaughtered a number of animals and burned the carcasses as a sacrificial offering pleasing to God. God promised that he would never again destroy the world by a flood re-establishing his relationship with creation. He made the rainbow the sign of this covenant.
During the great theophany at Mount Sinai God entered into a covenant with the Jewish people. He renewed the covenant he made with Abraham and gave them the law that they were to follow. Moses built an altar and gathered the people before it. He slaughtered a number of bulls and drained their blood into basins. To ratify the covenant Moses poured some of the blood onto the altar. The remaining blood he sprinkled over the people. This was a sacred covenant between God and the Jewish people – it was ratified in the blood of a sacrifice. Having a sense of the sacredness of these blood covenants we can move to a deeper understanding of the account of the Last Supper that we’ve read in today’s Gospel.
The passage begins with these words: “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?’” This Passover will be Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples. In a matter of hours, he will be sacrificed on the cross. There, he will be the priest offering the sacrifice, like Abraham, Noah and Moses, and the sacrificial victim. His blood will ratify the covenant. At this meal Jesus will establish the everlasting sign of this covenant. “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘Take it. This is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.’”
In this meal, this Eucharist, Jesus offered the bread of his body. They accepted it. They ate it. He offered the wine of his blood. They drank it. In this Eucharist they entered into the most sacred ever imagined. It was sealed in the blood of Christ.
Today, the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, we take our place at the table of the Last Supper with him. Today, we stand at the foot of the cross. We see him poured out in sacrifice. Today, we remember his words, “Do this in memory of me,” and re-affirm the terms of this most sacred covenant. We eat his body, broken. We drink his blood, shed. We sing out, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the death of the Lord.” In each Eucharist we accept to follow his new law, to love one another as he loved us. We seal this covenant in the blood of the Lamb.