JUNE 3RD, 2018: BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
When Moses came to the people
and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD,
they all answered with one voice,
"We will do everything that the LORD has told us."
Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and,
rising early the next day,
he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar
and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.
Then, having sent certain young men of the Israelites
to offer holocausts and sacrifice young bulls
as peace offerings to the LORD,
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people,
who answered, "All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do."
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
"This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his."
Brothers and sisters:
When Christ came as high priest
of the good things that have come to be,
passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle
not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation,
he entered once for all into the sanctuary,
not with the blood of goats and calves
but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
For if the blood of goats and bulls
and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes
can sanctify those who are defiled
so that their flesh is cleansed,
how much more will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from dead works
to worship the living God.
For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant:
since a death has taken place for deliverance
from transgressions under the first covenant,
those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,
Jesus’ disciples said to him,
"Where do you want us to go
and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"
He sent two of his disciples and said to them,
"Go into the city and a man will meet you,
carrying a jar of water.
Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house,
'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room
where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.
Make the preparations for us there."
The disciples then went off, entered the city,
and found it just as he had told them;
and they prepared the Passover.
While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
"Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
I’ve always been amazed at tourists who, at arriving at a famous site, simply park their car, get out, take a picture of it, return to their car, and drive away, never once spending even a few minutes actually looking at the site. They’ve got a picture of it, why do they need to spend their valuable time looking at it? As crazy as that seems, in my lifetime that’s almost exactly what we did with the Eucharist.
As a child, almost no one went to communion. I can remember Sundays when more than 200 people were in church, yet fewer than 20 came up for communion. (In some parishes more than half the congregation stood up at communion time, but it was simply the first step in leaving church!)
People’s reluctance to participate in the Eucharist was one of the reasons the church instituted today’s feast. By specifically gearing readings, music, and liturgical prayers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper it was hoped the Eucharist itself wouldn’t fade into the background. Something at the center of the earliest biblical Christian community was in danger of disappearing from its field of vision.
The reason was simple. The late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes figured it out years ago. When asked why he rarely permitted his quarterbacks to throw passes, Hayes always responded, “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.”
By the first part of the 20th century, we had so many rules and regulations revolving around receiving communion that we frequently ran the risk of something bad happening when we walked up to the communion rail. For instance, if we were in the state of sin, we’d commit another one by going to communion; since we had to abstain from food and water from midnight on, even a sip of toothpaste water would be sinful. It was best to make only a “spiritual” communion. Couldn’t commit any sins that way.
Thankfully by the 50s priests (and popes) began to encourage everyone to receive communion every time they participated in the Eucharist. Nowhere was this stressed more than on First Fridays, when nine of them in a row guaranteed you’d eventually get into heaven. We stopped taking pictures and began to actually experience the site.
Yet some of us are still reaching for our cameras at communion time. We refuse – for whatever reason – to receive from the cup. We habitually walk past the minister of the cup, believing it’s for extra credit, something we don’t need.
Listen carefully to today’s Exodus passage. Those who have the blood sprinkled on them are showing they’ve made the covenant with Yahweh. The red blotches on their skin and clothes are the covenant’s outward sign. Just as a wedding ring is an outward sign two people are committed to one another, the covenant blood is a sign they’ve formed a special relationship with Yahweh.
We know from I Corinthian’s 11, that Jesus also gave his followers an outward sign they’re willing to carry on his ministry after his death and resurrection: receiving his blood. In some sense, receiving from the cup is more important than receiving the bread. If we’re not going to carry on Jesus’ ministry, he’s died in vain. Perhaps Jesus intended us to first receive the bread simply to strengthen us to receive the cup.
We’ve still got a long way to go before we completely put our cameras away, and begin to rely on our experiences. If today’s feast helps us do that, we’re using it the right way. Just remember, the people who gave us our readings never saw a camera. It was all first-hand experiences for them, or nothing.