“All the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” The first Israelites who lived under the Sinai covenant recognized the importance of applying God’s word to human action. God had freed them from slavery and was bringing them to a new life in a land of their own. It is easier to lose freedom than to win it, and the temptation was strong to exchange the security of God’s gifts for the apparent safety of human fabrications. In the Sinai revelation, God taught Israel how to stay free and to act in accord with the divine plan. Only by acting on this instruction could Israel retain the gifts God had given.
‘Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.’ (Mk 14:23)
What is your memory of God setting you free?
How has serving Christ’s mission allowed you to bring freedom to others?
The Eucharist has a similar quality. The gift of this sacrament is so important that the church celebrates it twice, once on Holy Thursday and again on today’s solemnity. On Holy Thursday, the focus is Jesus, and the permanent change his sacrifice effected in humanity’s relationship with God. Today, the focus is participation in that sacrifice and the way it brings each individual’s life into harmony with God.
In Mark’s Gospel, that dream receives its clearest expression in Jesus’ act of self-giving. “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Just as Moses foreshadowed Israel’s freedom with the unleavened bread of the first Passover and secured Israel’s inheritance with the blood of a sacrificial offering, so Christ offers his own body and blood to symbolize the freedom and eternal life he shares with God. Through his self-giving, Jesus restored concord between humanity and God and gives an example for any disciple who wishes to share in the same relationship.
“All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” This relationship requires action. In the blood of the first covenant, Israel offered itself to God in return for its freedom and inheritance. In the blood of the new covenant, Jesus offered himself completely to God in return for the freedom and sanctification of all humanity. We cooperate with these ancient offerings when we offer our own body and blood in service of Christ’s mission.
“Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.” Throughout his Last Supper narrative, Mark emphasizes the acts of self-giving involved in the institution of the Eucharist. By accepting the same cup, the disciples took on themselves the burden of Jesus’ mission and fate. Very soon, in the very same chapter in fact, Mark relates how completely they failed: “They all left him and fled” (Mk 14:50).
God’s dreams do not suffer defeats; they just become more circuitous in their fulfillment. Strengthened by the cup they all shared, those same disciples came to believe not only that Jesus rose from the dead, but that he loved them in spite of their failure and wanted them to continue his mission.
We celebrate our own participation in this mission today. Loved by God in spite of our sins, we share the cup the disciples drank. With Christ as our body, and with his blood in our veins, we go forth to continue his saving work.