The Body and Blood of Christ Year B
The Eucharist is God’s new covenant.
In our daily life, we enter into contracts all the time. There are formal contracts, such as a bank loan; and the less formal contracts, such as buying an item from a shop. A contract is an agreement between two parties that establishes the mutual obligations of the parties, for example, providing a loan, providing goods or services, payment of interest, payment of an agreed price, etc. Sometime, a party fails to fulfil the obligations. In which case, the contract stipulates the remedies that may be sought, failing which what penalties will apply.
The Bible often speaks of covenants. Covenants in the Bible are often described as “contracts”. Commercial contracts and Biblical times covenants are similar in some ways. To understand what a covenant is, we need an understanding of how a covenant were made in Biblical times. In Biblical times, when two parties make a covenant, they would cut animals in half and walk between the two halves. The severed animals signify the fate of a party should it breaks the covenant. (Talk about penalty!) It is with this understanding that we can better appreciate God’s covenant with Abraham. In Gen 15, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great people (Gen 15:5); that they shall inherit the land (Gen 15:7); that God will protect and reward them (Gen 15:1). Then God asked Abraham to prepare some animals cut in halves (Gen 15:10). God made Abraham fall into a deep sleep and unilaterally sealed the covenant by walking between the severed animals (Gen 15:17).
The First Reading describes another occasion when God made a covenant with his people. The people promised to be obedient to God’s commandments (verse 7). As in the case of Abraham, blood was spilled as animals were sacrificed. To seal the covenant, half the blood of the bullocks was showered on the altar (signifying God); and the other half on the people.
In spite of the elaborate sealing of the covenant, have the Israelites been faithful to the covenant? No they have not. In fact, throughout history, there were frequent instances of disobedience by the Israelite people. They worshipped other gods and indulged in immoral acts. This is where God’s covenant differs from commercial contracts. Unlike commercial contracts, a covenant is not legalistic and impersonal agreement. In fact, God’s covenant establishes an intimate relationship between God and His people. In commercial contracts, the party who broke the terms of the contract pays the price. Whereas in God’s covenant, when the people were disobedient, it was God who paid the penalty. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17) As a God who intimately loves us, God establishes a covenant with us unilaterally; and when we broke the covenant, He unilaterally paid the price of our disobedience. He died on the cross to atone for our sins.
As Jesus spilled His blood on the cross, He became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). As St Paul explained in the Second Reading, “he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (verse 12) But Jesus’ blood on the cross is not just Him paying the penalty of the old covenant. In spilling the blood of the Lamb, a new covenant is established by God. As the prophet Jeremiah foretold, “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” (Jer 30:22) As St Paul said in the Second Reading, “For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.” (verse 15)
However, as in the case of the covenant with Abraham, when Jesus gave up His Body and His Blood on the cross, He established the new covenant unilaterally. However, unlike Abraham’s covenant, we the people of the new covenant have the option making a conscious choice of becoming a party to the new covenant – a chance to seal the covenant. As St Mark recalled in the Gospel this week, “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’” (verse 22-24) In Luke’s account of the event, Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) My brothers and sisters, this is the true significance of our “Amen” at the Eucharistic table, for the Eucharist is Jesus’ true Body and His true Blood. As the priest or Eucharistic minister proclaimed “the Body of Christ”, “the Blood of Christ”, I answer “Amen”. My Amen is more than a proclamation of my acceptance of the doctrine of transubstantiation – that I accept and believe in His True Presence. More than that, it is an active act on my part in sealing the new covenant. I am now “a party to the contract”, so to speak.
On the new covenant, Jeremiah said, “this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31:33) This leads us to the most challenging part of this week’s reflection. My brothers and sisters, let us ask ourselves: as I approach the Eucharistic table, is God’s law in my heart? In other words, am I serious in my intent to seal the covenant? The Israelite worshipped false gods. Who are my false gods? Do I place my pursuit of wealth, fame, glory above God? Do I worship my career, my achievements rather than God? Do I worship other humans? Do I idolise celebrities, political leaders, church leaders or even my love ones, more than I worship God? The Israelites committed immoral acts. What about me? Do I gossip? Do I injure other’s reputation? Am I vengeful and unforgiving? Am I lustful, proud, greedy, envious or lazy? The truth is, many of us partake in the Eucharist more as a routine than as a covenant. We do not reflect, we do not harbour what Pope St John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement”. St Paul warned us, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.” (1 Cor 11:29) Hence, St Paul encourages us, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Cor 11:30-32)
A commercial contract often stipulates the remedies available when one party fails to honour the contract, before the penalties apply. When I fail to honour God’s covenant, what are the remedies? Many of us might cite the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is correct. However, as in the case of the Sacrament of Eucharist, we too often partake in Reconciliation more as a routine. And if I do that, I bring further judgement upon myself. This is why the Church wants us to examine our conscience prior to Reconciliation. For it is only with a truly contrite heart that I may experience true healing and true restoration.
Peace be with you, my brothers and sisters.