1st Reading: Exodus 24: 3-8
Why was it necessary to ratify a covenant in blood? The fact that the covenant was sealed in blood indicated not only that is was an agreement to follow the Law, it was also an agreement to allow it to be the center of life – it was an agreement to share life. Recall that blood was a sign of life force – life was believed to reside in the blood. The people were willing to enter into covenant, an intimate blinding relationship, with Yahweh. The blood ritual only took place once. It would not be repeated again until the blood sacrifice of Jesus.
What rings true for you in this reading, since we don’t go around throwing blood? It does show great commitment to try and follow God’s will. But there is no way to absolutely know what God’s will is for us. As we pray and discern, we try to figure it out. It does please God that we try to be in relationship with God. Participating in Eucharist-remembering the blood sacrifice of Christ-is one way we are able to do this. How do you decipher God’s will? Does Eucharist help you feel closer to God?
2nd Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-15
Thoughts from Prof. Dr. Joseph Ratzinger’s Theology of the Cross from his book: Einfuhrung in das Christentum (Introduction to Christianity):
In many devotional books we encounter the idea that Christian faith in the cross is belief in a God whose unforgiving justice demands a human sacrifice – the sacrifice of his own son. This somber and angry God contradicts the Good News of God’s love and makes it unbelievable. Many people picture things this way, but it is false. In the Bible, the cross is not part of a picture of violated rights; the cross is far more the expression of a life which is a ‘being for others.’
This is an appalling picture of God, as one who demanded the slaughter of his own son in order to assuage his anger. Such a concept of God has nothing to do with the New Testament. The New Testament does not say that human beings reconcile God; it says that God reconciles us.
The fact that we are saved ‘through his blood’ (Hebrew 9:12) does not mean that his death is an objective sacrifice . . . In world religions, the notion which dominates is that of the human being making restitution to God in order to win God‘s favor. But in the New Testament the picture is the exact opposite. It is not the human being who goes to God, to bring him a compensatory gift or sacrifice; rather, it is God who comes to human beings with a gift to give us. The cross is not the act of offering satisfaction to an angry God. Rather, it is the expression of the boundless love of God, who undergoes humiliation in order to save us.
Christian worship is not the act of giving something to God; rather, it is the act of allowing ourselves to receive God’s gift, and to let God do this for us.
In traditional reflections on the passion, the question turns up again and again: what is the relationship between pain and sacrifice? And it was often assumed that the intensity of Jesus’ pain gave it salvific value. But how could God take pleasure in human pain, or find in it the reconciling act which must be offered to him? If this picture were true, then it would be Jesus’ executioners who make the sacrificial offering . . . but in Jesus God’s creative mercy makes the sinful human being belong to him, giving life to the dead. **Joseph Ratzinger is Pope Benedict XVI.
The Gospel: Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
In Jesus’ culture grain, oil, and wine were the staples, with grain and its products – especially bread – being most important. Bread provided about ½ the caloric intake for the ancient Mediterranean world, with wheat being considered superior to barley and sorghum, the food of the poor.
Another point from John Pilch: Drawing water and carrying it was a woman’s task in Jesus’ culture. Any man present at a well would be a challenge to the honor of all the fathers, brothers, and husbands in that village. If a man did carry water it was in a skin not a jar. This man carrying a water jar was certainly a cultural anomaly: easy to spot.
From Celebration, June 1998:
Eucharist is about a remembering (anamnesis) that does not simply call to mind the past events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Eucharist makes present here and now, within the gathered assembly of believers, the reality of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Each Eucharist is a “living remembrance of Jesus’ act of love.” By our participation (offering our ‘hungry’ selves, hearkening to God’s Word, and then eating and drinking) in the Eucharist, believers proclaim and are integrated into that death and are given a taste of the resurrected life to come.
At Eucharist we say that we “proclaim the death of the Lord” . . .
What does this mean? The Eucharist is always about the paschal mystery – about a dying and a rising. We, like Jesus, must become a body for others. Giving of ourselves is a type of death – but out of it comes new life for our selves and for others. The gift of Jesus’ very self demands a response from us; it demands a response that is our selves. (It is also good to reflect how sharing from both the bread and wine – the body and the blood of Christ – is a much fuller celebration of Eucharist. The body is the real self of the Risen Christ and the blood is the life force of this Risen Christ– “We eat his Body and drink his Blood as sign that, nourished by him, we are now able to lay down our own bodies [our very selves] and pour out our own blood [our life force] so that salvation [fullness of life] comes to others.” (Living Liturgy, 2004, 150-152)
In Jesus, God has come to be with us where we are. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to find in his death a new definition of ourselves – a new understanding of the meaning of success and failure, of the meaning of life and death, of what it means to be a human person . . . the Eucharist is the call which frees each of us from the false self, the most tyrannical master of all . . . At Eucharist we become gifts of God to be enjoyed and put at the service of the neighbor. We are freed from the radical insecurity and false pride that is at the heart of all evil. We are freed to be realistic and intelligent about how we use the gifts God has given us while recognizing that our true call is to find life by giving it away . . . (John Dwyer, The Sacraments, “Chapter Eight: the Eucharist” p.129-130)
The Hebrew word for the Greek anamnesis is zikkaron, meaning a sacrificial term that brings the offerer into remembrance before God, or brings God into favorable remembrance with the offerer. When Jesus took the bread and wine and offered it, he was identifying with the Israelites and their covenant. He was being a good Jew. He was making a new covenant, saying, “I am united with my ancestors. This is now me. I am Passover.” So now the Church identifies herself with Christ. We are Christ to the world. Now it’s our turn to be united in covenant with God and give of ourselves. Like the Israelites, it will move us from captivity to freedom, from sin to repentance (taken from Fr. Vosko lecture).
1st Reading – Genesis 14: 18 – 20
Melchizedek is mentioned in only three places in scripture: this reading plus Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6, 10; 6:20-7:22. He is said to be the king of Salem; its name means peace. This place becomes the city of Jerusalem, the center of Israel’s kingdom.
It was customary for a king to be hospitable toward a victorious leader, but there are no ulterior motives here. Instead, there is a beautiful blessing ritual, to which Abram gives thanks. Note that Abram did not take his victory greedily. He only wanted to save his nephew Lot and retrieve the possessions that were taken from him. For the victory and the blessing, he gives thanks to God. How do you give thanks to god for the victories and blessings in your life?
Later Christian writers would evoke this episode in history and consider it a prefigurement of Christ. Jesus would offer the blessing of his life – the effect would be irrevocable and would be the gift of God’s self to the entire world – redemption. (Birmingham, W&W, p. 560-561).
In exchange for the blessing, Abram offers a tenth of everything. In Eucharist, we offer ourselves to Christ just as Christ offered Christself. We are doing as He said to do. What does this mean for you? What do you offer?
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
This is the earliest written account (maybe 53-55 AD) of Jesus’ Last Supper and the words that have become our Eucharistic prayer.
From Celebration, June 1998:
Eucharist is about a remembering (anamnesis) that does not simply call to mind the past events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Eucharist makes present here and now, within the gathered assembly of believers, the reality of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection. Each Eucharist is a “living remembrance of Jesus’ act of love.” By our participation (offering our ‘hungry selves’, hearkening to God’s Word, sharing peace, and then eating and drinking) in the Eucharist, believers proclaim and are integrated into that death and are given a taste of the resurrected life to come.
We “proclaim the death of the Lord” . . . What does this mean? In Eucharist Christ comes to us as the one in whom God participates in the emptiness and negativity of life, as the one in whom God accepts us in the most unrestricted way possible, and as the one who in virtue of this acceptance, lays claim to all that we are and can be. The Eucharist is not simply a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus or the fact that he now lives. Rather, it is a celebration of the fact that it is the crucified one who now lives; it is a celebration of the God who came into the brokenness, the ‘unwholeness’ and the unholiness’ of the human situation, and who came to stay. In Jesus, God has come to be with us where we are. To proclaim the death of the Lord is to find in his death a new definition of ourselves – a new understanding of the meaning of success and failure, of the meaning of life and death, of what it means to be a human person. (John Dwyer, The Sacraments, “Chapter Eight: the Eucharist” p.129-130)
The Gospel – Luke 9: 11-17
It is important to place this gospel story within the context of the overall gospel of Luke. Chapter 9 had started with Jesus commissioning the Twelve and sending them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. After they go out Luke tells us of Herod’s curiosity about Jesus: “I beheaded John. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” Then the Twelve return. They withdraw in private to Bethsaida, but the crowds follow Jesus, and yet, he welcomed them . . . here then, is where the gospel story begins. It ends with a superabundance of satisfying food.
From “Working with the Word,” http://liturgy.slu.edu:
Too often we narrowly view Eucharist in the context of the Last Supper and its elements of bread and wine. This gospel expands our perception to include the whole event of hungering, and then gathering, blessing, breaking, giving, eating, and being satisfied. Evil diminishes life and enslaves people; God’s kingdom restores life and liberates them from hunger – ‘malnutrition’ and oppression. This story illustrates Jesus’ Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, the kingdom is yours . . . and the hungry will be satisfied.
It is at Eucharist that we experience most intimately the communion of saints. Communion of saints in Greek is koinōnia hagiōn. Koinōnia is any partnership, fellowship, activity, experience or relationship where people come together. It is togetherness for mutual benefit and goodness (Barclay, The Apostles Creed p. 245). Hagiōn literally means sacred things, hagiōi meaning members of the Church as saints, or sacred people (p. 247). Imagine the sacred things as being that which we share in Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus. In that sense, we are sharing sacred things as a communion (koinōnia) of sacred people. In the Byzantine liturgy, the priest says, “Holy things for holy people” at the distribution of Holy Communion (Shannon, Catholic Update May 2005, p.4). We become the body of Christ.
In the book With God in Russsia by Walter Ciszek (an autobiography of a Jesuit priest), he recounts being in Poland in a concentration camp and celebrating Mass. It was forbidden to do so, so it had to be done in secret. Fasting before Eucharist from the midnight before was common practice then. Since the inmates were only given 2 meals of gruel a day, giving up the morning meal was a true sacrifice. If guards did not make it possible to celebrate at the scheduled time, they may go even longer without eating. So this priest and those he celebrated Mass with truly held Eucharist in deep, deep faith (Nolan, Hungry, and You Fed Me, p. 273-275). Consider this as you receive Eucharist this week.
The Gospel — John 6: 51-58
Three Biblical understandings of the Lord’s supper: 1) It is a memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a covenant sacrifice; 2) it is a continuation of Jesus’ earthy and post-resurrection meals in which the messianic banquet is anticipated; 3) it is a ritual extension of Jesus’ Incarnation. The bread and wine become the living body and blood of Christ in those who receive him into their lives. John’s gospel is emphasizing this idea. Through this Living Bread, Christ’s ongoing presence and life continue in the community – in the world.
Raymond Brown says that this passage is a profound proclamation of sacramental and Eucharistic theology. The living bread given by Christ is his own flesh. In ancient times flesh was understood to mean the totality of the person. John’s focus is on this flesh, the Word made flesh. The totality of Christ’s person, his complete life-force (blood), is the only food that gives life, an eternal life. The coming of Christ into the world is the supreme act of redemption.
“If Baptism gives us that life which the Father shares with the Son, then the Eucharist is food nourishing it.” Jesus promises to dwell within the hearts of believers – to abide within them. A mutual indwelling happens between Jesus and his disciples. This incredible act of intimacy (INTO-ME-SEE) with Jesus opens the door to life – eternal life. Flesh (sarx) is that which of itself leads to death. In Jesus this flesh, sarx, is transformed, redeemed, set free from natural destruction by the Spirit of Jesus. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, p.607)
Life is the most precious things we have. To share one’s life, then, is to share with another our deepest “I am.” This is how we remain in each other – through self-giving and, yes, participating in the common Meal. Jesus’ gift of life to us through our participation in his Body and Blood is not simply for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others. To receive this gift of life is to be compelled to give this gift to others. Giving of one’s life-force, one’s blood, is not so beyond our own human experience either. Every time a mother gives birth, she sheds her blood. Family members readily give blood for the transfusion of a loved one. Our public blood banks are testimony to the generous giving of blood by strangers to strangers. Heroes sometimes shed their blood trying to help or protect another. Living Liturgy, 2002, p. 161
From St. Irenaeus on the sacraments, written 220AD:
“For as the bread, which comes from the earth, receives the invocation of God, and then it is no longer common bread but Eucharist, consists of 2 things, an earthly and a heavenly; so our bodies, after partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the eternal resurrection.”
And Tertullian, another ancient theologian:
“The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ that the soul may be fattened on God.”
And St. Cyril of Jerusalem:
“And while the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands, and sanctify your eyes and forehead and the rest of your organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks to God who has counted you worthy of admission to those great mysteries.”
From The Eucharist in the New Testament and the EasrlyChurch, Eugene LaVerdiere:
“For John, the event is viewed primarily from the point of view of Christ’s personal presence, sustaining, challenging, nourishing, and uniting the Church on its journey to the Father…(p. 113) It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus is glorified, that the Father is present in him and that he reveals the Father. It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus dies, rose again, is exalted, and is now present to us in sacrament (p. 117).”
Ideas concerning Eucharist from The Vatican II document, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:
We have lost nothing
for not having lived during the time of Jesus’ life on earth . . .
We have everything that the first disciples had
to help us believe in Jesus . . .
Christ is always present in the Church . . .
In the Mass Christ is really present
in the minister
in the Eucharistic bread and wine,
in the proclaimed Word of God,
and in the whole community gathered to worship and pray . . .
The Liturgy is really a celebration of eternity, here and now.
It contains the entire mystery of faith:
it is food as pilgrims,
our hymn of praise,
our hope for partnership with God.
The sacred liturgy gathers together all who have gone before us
and all who will come after us
together with Jesus Christ . . .
It is the summit toward which the Christian life is directed
and the very source of that life to begin with.
It is a fount, from which grace is poured over us,
and a place to which we go for reconciliation . . .
The faithful who come to Liturgy must be well disposed,
ready to participate, and actively engaged in the rites . . .
Because of their baptisms,
all the faithful have both a right and a duty
to full and active participation in the Liturgy . . .
The Scriptures are of greatest importance to the liturgical celebration,
so care should be taken in proclaiming them,
homilizing on them . . .
or praying inspired by them.
A warm and living love of the Scriptures is to be fostered.
(Chapter one, Art. 7, 8,10,11,14, & 24 – taken from Bill Huebsch’s Vatican II in Plain English: The Constitutions)
From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, p. 34-35; 80-97:
Eucharist presents us with an option: the possibility to choose in the midst of life’s mourning and pain, not resentment, but gratitude. Mourning our losses is the first step away from resentment toward gratitude. The tears of our grief can soften our hardened hearts and open us to the possibility to say ‘thanks.’ The word, “Eucharist” means literally “act of thanksgiving.” To celebrate Eucharist and to live a Eucharistic life has everything to do with gratitude. Living Eucharistically is living life as a gift . . . The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately connected with its fragility and mortality.
In Eucharist we take the ‘bread and the wine’ of our lives and discover the ‘flesh and the blood’ of the Risen One: we take, bless, break and give; Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. Jesus is the fullness of the God who from the beginning of time has desired to enter into communion with us. Communion is what God wants and what we want, need. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart . . . and communion creates community. The God-in-us is now able to see the God-in-others. We begin to glimpse the ongoing incarnation of God – and we participate with gratitude and joy.