Ex 24:3-8, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
Don’t know about you, but to me the scenes that appear before my eyes as today’s readings are solemnly proclaimed in the liturgy of the Word are more vivid, colorful, and pregnant with meanings than the films showcased by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF):
Scene 1 Moses sprinkling the blood of young bulls on the people of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai – a ritual performed as the consummation of “the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with [Israel]” (Ex 24:8). According to the Hebrew tradition, life was in the blood; the sprinkling of blood on the people was symbolic of the atonement for their lives (cf. Lev 17:11).
Scene 2 Moses’ historic ritual inaugurated the full-blown structure of the Day of Atonement ritual (see Lev 16), whereby the high priest emerged from the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the worshipers with the blood of goats and calves (see 2nd reading). While all this was going on in the history of Israel year after year, Psalm 40 could be heard in the background chanting, “Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for me” (Heb 10:5, cf. Ps 40:6), reminding everyone that the whole universe was groaning, yearning for the true “Body” – the Body of Christ – that would give the world the ultimate and efficacious atonement of sin.
Scene 3 In the gospel reading, we hear: “[Jesus] 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 my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many’” (Mk 14:22-24). There we have it: Jesus’ self-gift, the body and blood anticipated and yearned for by the whole human race from time immemorial; the New Moses acting as the Mediator between God and man to bring to final consummation the New Covenant, using not the blood of animal but his own blood; the ultimate High Priest whose heavenly liturgy is celebrated not in the man-made temple of Jerusalem but in the Temple of the Heavenly Jerusalem!
As sensational as the films of TIFF are, the “film” of Corpus Christi, starring Moses, the people of Israel, the Levitcal high priests, Jesus and the apostles, is far and away the most stunning movie that has ever been produced. Crystalized in the Eucharist, the “film” has been, and will continue to be, re-presented until Jesus, the Best Actor and the Best Director, returns to earth in his glory.
The New Covenant
Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau
The Passover evening comes and the Twelve meet with Jesus to eat the paschal lamb. They think of celebrating their liberation from Egypt and the Sinai covenant. They become, instead, representatives of the twelve tribes of Israel and witnesses of the new covenant foretold by the prophets and they receive the true Lamb as food.
We approach the text with trepidation because it is the liturgical text used in the early Christian communities for the celebration of the Eucharist. “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them” (v. 22). Jesus begins with the traditional rite of Passover meal as the head of the house. Then he gives an unusual invitation not part of the rite: “Take this and eat” and, above all, the value attributed to the bread, “This is my body,” that is, “It’s me.” The disciples are able to understand the meaning of the gesture and words. The Master’s whole life has been a gift. He has become bread broken for people, now he wants his disciples to share his choice. They enter into communion, they become one person with him, and so they will share in his own life.
Now it is clear, even to us, what it means to approach the Eucharist: this is not a devotional meeting with Jesus, but the decision to be like him at all times, broken bread at the disposal of the brethren.
At the end of the meal, Jesus drinks the cup of wine. His gesture is laden with symbolism because it is the last cup, that of parting from the old covenant, in fact he states: “I will not taste the fruit of the vine again, until that day when I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.”
He foresaw, a time of mourning, sorrow, and abstinence from intoxicating drinks for the community of his disciples,. The message is clear: wherever the bridegroom is absent there is no wine – the joy of the feast. There are signs of triumph of evil and death in the world. This saddens the disciples, but the are sure that a “feast of rich food and choice wines, meat full of marrow, fine wine strained” (Is 25:6) will take place. Jesus will be present at the party and will give to all his wine, “I will drink it (with you), anew, in the kingdom of God.”
The cup is that of his blood, “the blood of the covenant, poured out for many.”
The covenant made at Sinai had not reached the goal of keeping the people in communion with the Lord. It was sanctioned with the blood that, being of animals, did not have any life-giving power. The covenant of Jesus is celebrated with blood, his own, in which the divine life is present and offered to anyone who is willing to accept it.
The blood of the new covenant is poured out for many, that means for all. The Eucharist is not instituted for the individuals, so that everyone can personally meet Christ, to encourage individual fervor or some form of spiritual isolationism. The Eucharist is the food of the community, it is bread broken and shared among brothers and sisters (at least two), because the community is a sign of the new humanity, born of the resurrection of Christ.
The bread is Christ and the cup of his blood creates a community of “blood relations” with Christ and with one another, so as to form the new people whose only law is the service to the brothers and sisters to the point of giving one’s life as “nourishment” to satisfy all forms of human hunger.