Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The Book of Exodus is the source of this first reading for the feast of the Body and Body of Christ, or Corpus Christi, as it long was called. It is the feast on which the Church concentrates its attention upon the Holy Eucharist.
This reading describes an early ritual sacrifice among the Hebrews as ordered by Moses. The victims in this sacrifice were young bulls. Bulls, of course, represented creation, as they were part of creation. They were strong animals, and they could be led to perform many useful tasks difficult for humans with less physical strength. They were not threatening, as they were not predators. They ate vegetation, so providing them with feed was not a difficult undertaking unless it was a time of drought or other natural disaster.
Of course, they were needed to reproduce the herd. So, offering such animals to God not only recognized God as Creator, but it offered to the glory of God a possession of some value.
Interesting in this ritual was that the blood of the sacrificed bulls was sprinkled on the people. By today’s standards, it is not an appealing thought. The symbolism was that the blood of the bulls was made holy because of the sacrifice itself. Anything touched by this holy blood in turn became holy.
For the second reading, the Church provides the Epistle to the Hebrews. Many of the first Christians were converts from Judaism and ethnically were Jews.
In this reading, Jesus is described as the high priest. In this role, the Lord supplants the high priests of old. Also, Jesus is the victim of the new and perfect sacrifice. His blood, shed on Calvary, freely offered to God as satisfaction for human sin, makes Christians holy.
St. Mark’s Gospel supplies us with the last reading. It recalls Passover, that most important of ancient Jewish feasts, and still a major Jewish religious feast today. The feast commemorates the rescue by God of the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery. The reading recalls the Last Supper. This supper, so beloved among Christians, was itself a Passover meal. The Gospels tell us about this aspect of the supper not in the sense that it coincided with Passover, or it just happened to be Passover, but that this Last Supper actually brought to fruition, and to perfection, God’s rescue of humanity from misery and eternal death. It was the supreme Passover.
Jesus offers bread and wine, miraculously transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the Lord’s own divine power, as food for the Apostles. Such a gesture would not have been as unusual at the time of Jesus as it might appear today.
The Jews would have known ritual sacrifice very well. The meat provided by the flesh of the sacrificed victims was offered to believers. By consuming this meat, made holy by the sacrifice itself, he believers connected with the divinity. Indeed they bonded with the divinity.
Body, of course, meant a person. Jewish philosophy had no sense of “body” and “soul,” or at least no truly developed sense, as this distinction was Greek. Blood was the very matter of life. If a person hemorrhaged, then the person died. If the circulation stopped, as a result of cardiac arrest for example, the person died. It is easy to see why the ancient Jews saw life itself in blood — and especially in living blood.
The Church calls us today to celebrate its most marvelous of treasures, the Holy Eucharist. In these readings, the Church makes two points. First, it proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior. He was the perfect and sublime high priest, accomplishing salvation for us all by the voluntary sacrifice of self on Calvary in the crucifixion.
He is the true leader, the New Moses, who leads humanity away from the slavery of sin and death. With Jesus, we experience our own Passover. He leads us from the slavery and misery of our sins. No sinner is free. No sinner is at peace. No sinner possesses eternal life.
Sin starves us of life. It renders weak and even helpless. Jesus nourishes us, offering us the very Body and Blood of Christ.
In the Holy Eucharist, in Communion, we bring into our very selves, literally, the eternal, risen body of Christ. We live. We are strong.
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