Scripture scholars faithfully point out the changes made between the earliest scriptural account of the Lord’s Supper in I Corinthians 11 and today’s earliest gospel account in Mark 14. Most important, during the 10-12 year interval between Paul and Mark’s writings, it appears the Eucharistic “pot-luck meal” has been discarded. While Paul mentions Jesus said the “words of institution” over the bread at the beginning of the meal, and the words over the cup after the meal, Mark has Jesus proclaim both sets of words in the trip- hammer pattern with which we’re familiar today. Mark’s community doesn’t seem to be consuming a whole meal during their celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
The evangelist also adds a small, but significant detail to Paul’s narrative: Jesus passes his own personal cup to the men and women gathered around the table with him that night. Though each has his or her cup of wine in front of them during a Passover meal, Jesus tells them to put their cups down and to drink from his.
When Mark’s Jesus states, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many...,” he can only be thinking about our Exodus 24 pericope. Blood is always associated with biblical treaties and covenants. (The Hebrew phrase we usually translate “make a covenant” literally means “• a covenant.”) For the people of Scripture, blood symbolizes life. It didn’t take our ancestors long to conclude that a living thing didn’t live long once all its blood was drained. Blood and aliveness were synonymous. Employing blood in covenant-making ceremonies was a practical way of stating that this particular agreement was being entered into to deepen and expand the life each one was experiencing.
In preparing couples for the covenant of marriage, I often ask if they believe their union will improve how they live their lives. Do they think they’ll experience life more deeply when married than they do as single people? That’s why Moses has young men sprinkle blood on those who agree to the Sinai covenant with Yahweh. The blood splotches on these individuals are just as much a sign of their commitment to Yahweh and faith in the life-giving dimension of that covenant as a wedding ring is a sign of commitment to a spouse.
Of course, we don’t leave the Eucharist with blood stains on our clothes. Both Paul and Mark believe the outward sign of the covenant to which we’ve committed ourselves is that we drink from Jesus’ cup. By doing so, we’re publicly stating that we’re making Jesus’ covenant with God our covenant with God.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews uses sacrifice and covenant images with which his Jewish/Christian readers are familiar. But he insists that “Jews for Jesus” have taken on a deeper commitment than their ancestors originally made with God. “(Jesus) is mediator of a new covenant. . .“ he writes. We now have faith obligations which our Jewish ancestors didn’t have to worry about.
Paul reminded his community in I Corinthians that our participation in the blood of Jesus is first of all a commitment to becoming “church:” to forging a unity in Christ with all who celebrate with us. No doubt Paul would have been uptight had he lived long enough to see the pot-luck part of the meal abolished. He thought it was a terrific way to share oneself with others.
But then again, I recently celebrated the funeral of a close friend - a staunch Democrat. I began the Eucharist by mentioning that one of the reasons she wanted the Lord’s Supper celebrated during her funeral was that she presumed some Republicans would attend. She hoped all of us would die enough to ourselves to become church. I made certain I invited all to receive from the cup.