2 June 2024 - Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ ‘B

Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12...26


          When we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember the last meal Jesus had with his disciples, as recounted by the Evangelist Mark. For us, when we hold this celebration, it is a sacrament, a ritual gesture, a memorial. But for Jesus and his disciples, it wasn't a ritual, it was a real meal. And it's important not to forget that, if we want to understand this story properly. In fact, when Jesus said ‘This is my body’ as he offered them the bread, he was really there, in body and soul, before them, still very much alive.

          Let's begin by focusing on a few words or expressions in this account by Saint Mark, which is rich in symbols and biblical references, in some cases sticking to the original text, whose official liturgical translations leave out many nuances. When Jesus sent his disciples into the city - a city that, incidentally, is not named - he told them that they would meet ‘a man carrying a pitcher of water’. He tells them to follow this man and, when he enters the house, to say to the owner: ‘The master has sent you to say, ’Where is my dwelling where I can celebrate the Passover with my disciples? Note that he does not simply say ‘where is the room?’ (official translation), but rather ‘where is my room’, or better still ‘my resting place’.

          Commentators have pointed out that it was quite improbable in the Jewish culture of the time for a man to carry a jug of water. That was women's work. In reality, this man carrying the water is a symbolic representation of John the Baptist. So Mark closes a long loop that began at the beginning of his Gospel with the account of John's Baptism and John's words to his own disciples, pointing to Jesus and saying: ‘This is the Lamb of God; follow him’. Jesus has now reached the end of his course, signified by what he calls ‘my resting place’ or ‘my home’. He then tells his disciples to follow this man, the figure of John, to whom they must say nothing - simply follow him. It is to the owner of the house where he will enter, who represents his Father, that they will say that the master is asking: ‘Where is my dwelling?

          Mark's account of the meal is in two parts: The first, which has been omitted from our reading, is where Jesus says: ‘One of you is going to betray me, one who eats with me’. And he adds, ‘The Son of Man is going as it is written’. With these words, Jesus clearly expresses his acceptance of his imminent death. And it is in the light of this acceptance that we must understand what follows.

          Jesus then takes bread, pronounces the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to his disciples, saying, while he is still very much alive before them: ‘This - this I hold in my hands and place in yours - is my body’. For a Jew, the body was not a part of the human composite, certainly not a body separated from the soul, still less a body separated from the blood that animates it. The body was the whole human being, with all his identity, including his history. By inviting his disciples to take his body, Jesus was inviting them to accept his person, all that he had lived among them, as their standard of life.

          Mark's text does not say that the disciples ate the bread.

          Then Jesus took the cup, gave thanks, passed it around and they all drank from it. And it was after they had drunk that he said to them in a sentence that can be understood in two ways in Mark's Greek text: either: ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant’ -- which is the most common translation -- or: ‘This is the blood of my covenant’, which some modern exegetes prefer. Either way, what Jesus is saying to his disciples is that, if they really want to accept him as their standard of living, they must be prepared to go as far as he did in their self-giving. They must be prepared to give their lives, if necessary, out of love. The death he accepts out of fidelity to his mission is the covenant of love he establishes with them -- ‘my covenant’ -- and which replaces God's ancient covenant with the people of Israel.

          In fact, all together - except Judas, who had already left them - they set off for the Mount of Olives. All of them will follow Jesus in the ultimate testimony of love, as the years go by.

          By celebrating the Eucharist in memory of what Jesus was and did for us, we not only commit ourselves to taking him as our model and guide, but we commit ourselves to following him to the end, just as he loved us to the end. Even if none of us knows what this ‘to the end’ will mean in practice.