“Take it”, he said, “this is my body…” Mk. 14:22.
There are two feasts in the liturgical calendar that invite us to meditate on the mystery of the Eucharist: Holy Thursday and the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The celebration of Holy Thursday reminds us that the Eucharist is a sacrificial meal. The altar is not only the place of sacrifice but also the table where a meal is being served. The Eucharistic-food offers us the possibility “to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” When we receive the Eucharistic bread we commune with God. Related to the theme of the sacrificial meal, the liturgy of the Word today invites us to look at the Eucharist as a covenant. All the three readings highlight the symbol of blood being poured out as a sign of a covenant.
In many ancient societies, especially in the Near-East, an agreement became a covenant when it was sealed with the pouring of blood. The contracting parties would cut into each other’s arm and suck the blood, and mingle it; the mixing of the blood would render them “brothers of the covenant.” This ceremony had different variations. One such ritual was, instead of cutting their own hands, an animal would be cut into two parts and laid apart, and the contracting parties would pass between the parts showing that the one who breaks the covenant would face the same fate. However, since they promise to be faithful to the covenant they would eat together that animal, thus sealing the covenant.
The theme of the covenant is also played out in the relationship between God and humans. In this covenant we see some repeated patterns. It is always God who initiates the covenant – because human beings are really unworthy to enter into this covenant. Secondly, we are constantly the unfaithful partner in this covenant, thus deserving punishment. But since it is God who wants to have this covenant (because of His love for us), He is also ready to take the punishment on himself – paying the expiation for our unfaithfulness. The book of Exodus tells us exactly how this was the story of God and the Israelites.
In the New Testament – the New Covenant – God does not ask us to split animals into two halves as Abram did; nor use animal blood to be sprinkled upon us as Moses did. But as St Mark tells us, he uses his own body, he pours out his own blood as the sign of this new covenant. By doing this he not only pays the expiation – he takes on himself the punishment, for the unfaithfulness of humanity.
Today, this same covenant is being enacted before our eyes. In any of our Eucharistic celebration, we notice all the elements of the covenant. The most powerful thing about this enactment is that we are partners in this covenant. God wants to seal a new covenant with us – you and me, through the shedding of the blood of his son. And by partaking of that body and blood, by eating the body and blood of Jesus, we agree to be partners in this covenant. May the body and blood that we’ll consume also give us the strength to be faithful to this covenant with God daily. Fr Odinaka Nwadike