June 22, 2000 -- Feast of
Corpus Christi "B" -- Holy Cross Abbey, Whitland, UK
Exodus 24, 3-8; Hebrews 9, 11-15; Mark 14, 12...26
H O M I L Y
What we celebrate on this Feast of Corpus Christi is the mystery of life, the triumph of life over death. That triumph was realised through two covenants between God and humankind; and each one of them was sealed in blood.
In the creation God gave humankind the gift of life, which was a participation in His own divine nature. Through sin, the first man and woman brought death on themselves and their descendants, and one of their sons shed the blood of his own brother. From that time on God wanted to redeem humankind -- to bring man and woman back to life -- to the fullness of life. In that process of restoration, God first made a covenant with Abraham our father in the faith, a man who spoke to Him face to face, as with a friend. Later on, after the flight from Egypt, God made a Covenant with the whole people of Israel. The story of that Covenant was explained to us in the first reading. Because man is profoundly violent, and is prone to shedding blood, the people of Israel, in that ritual of Covenant with god, is called to live out its violence by shedding the blood of animals rather than shedding the blood of his brothers.
Then, in the end of times, a new Covenant is established between God and humankind. and this new Covenant is also sealed in blood, since blood is the most basic expression of life. But it is not sealed in a symbolic sacrifice, nor in the blood of animals and their offering. It is sealed in the blood of the Son of God.
Jesus' death was not a ritual sacrifice. It was a murder as was that of Abel. When Cain killed Abel, violence and death began to prevail in the history of humankind. But when Jesus was killed and when his blood was spilled, his body and his blood became the source of life for all those who believed in him.
This connection between the life that is given as food in the Eucharist and Jesus' death, is well expressed in the last sentence of today's Gospel. Jesus and his disciples go, indeed, straight from the Cenacle to the Mount of Olives. By his death Jesus realised what he had come for. He was sent by the Father and was born so that we may have life and have it to the full. Which is what he brought us through his death.
The description of the last Supper in Mark is very striking. That moment was prepared from the very birth of Jesus. This is somewhat expressed in the New Testament in the very use of vocabulary. (I beg you to allow me a few words of exegesis). In the first chapters of his Gospel, Luke shows Mary offering us her Son as food by placing him in a manger already wrapped in bands of cloth as it is normally done with a dead body. Luke says that Mary did that because there was no place for them in the "guest house". Now the word used here by Luke and that the New Testament translations usually translate by "inn" or "guest house" is a rare Greek word (katalyma) that is used only one other time in the New Testament. it is used (both in Luke and in Mark) to describe the room where Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. In today's gospel Jesus says to his disciple to ask the man whom they will meet in the city : "Where is my guest room, my kataluma. At the beginning there was no place, because the time had not come ... Now there is place for Jesus and his disciples in that guest room. And therefore the time has come for him to die. And it is by making himself voluntarily the victim of men's violence that He will free all of us of our own violence.
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we do not only commemorate the Last Supper. We draw from the life that was given to us by Jesus through his death and Resurrection.