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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

 

It was during the “table fellowship” of Jesus’ followers that they both kept him alive by remembering him and recognizing his presence among them as the risen “new creation.”

 

JUNE 7, 2015: BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

Readings:

Exodus 24:3-8
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

Few of my weekly commentaries create more problems and give birth to more negative comments than when I zero in on the biblical theology of the Lord’s Supper.
 
Many of us forget that the Christian biblical authors who commented on that pivotal event didn’t have access to the decrees of our ecumenical councils, nor did they read our modern catechisms. As a group, they interpreted the Lord’s last supper quite differently from later theologians. They didn’t even agree on what kind of a meal Jesus shared with his friends on the night before he died. As we hear in today’s gospel pericope, Mark – along with Matthew and Luke who copied his narrative – tells us it was a Passover meal. John not only believes it was eaten the evening before Passover, he actually has Jesus “institute the Eucharist” not during this last meal, but earlier, during his chapter 6 bread miracle. Paul, in his well-known I Corinthians 11 passage, says nothing about Passover – one way or the other.

One reason for such diversity revolves around how these unique authors conceived of their ministry. They weren’t modern historians, committed to giving us a blow by blow account of what actually happened. They were editorial writers, concerned not so much with what happened as with the meaning of what happened. And because they were Semitic, not Greek thinkers they were anxious to come up with both/and conclusions, not either/or statements. Like Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye, they were constantly trying to examine “the other hand.”

It’s clear that our earliest biblical editorialists zeroed in on the community meal aspect of the Lord’s Supper. It was during the “table fellowship” of Jesus’ followers that they both kept him alive by remembering him and recognizing his presence among them as the risen “new creation.” He actually became the food and drink they shared and consumed.

It was their belief that they were carrying on his ministry that made both Paul and Mark quote Jesus’ words over the cup in a different way than many of us remember them. Instead of saying, “This is my blood,” Jesus proclaims, “This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

The phrase – the blood of the covenant – refers back to today’s Exodus passage. Moses commands that the blood of the animals sacrificed in the Sinai covenant ceremony be sprinkled on the people as a sign they were committed to carrying out the provisions of the agreement they’d just entered into with Yahweh. In a parallel way, Jesus expects us to drink from his cup as an outward sign that we’re going to carry out the provisions of the covenant he’s made with Yahweh; that we’re going to carry on his ministry.

In this earliest Eucharistic theology, by becoming one with those who share this special meal, we’re also becoming one with the risen Jesus in our midst, so one that we actually morph into other Christs.

The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews introduces a new way of looking at the Eucharist. Comparing Jesus to Jewish priests, he brings up the idea that, like those priests, Jesus offers sacrifice for our sins, leading to our eventual redemption. But, unlike the priests who offered animals, grain and wine, Jesus offers himself.

It’s obvious that we’ve not only bought into this later theology, but that’s the editorial we emphasized and developed in our councils and catechisms.

Though the bishops of Vatican II tried to bring us back to the community meal concept of the Eucharist, we’re constantly in danger of reverting to sacrifice theology. It simply doesn’t cost as much to attend as to participate. It’s easier to just watch than to become one.

 

 

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