Year B: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi
Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his 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. Follow him. 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, and 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.
- Is the Eucharist central to your spiritual life? Explain
- How would you describe your covenant relationship with God? What has God promised you? What have you promised God?
- In regard to Eucharist, we become what we receive? We are to become Christ in the world. Where is this happening for you? Explain
- Body broken for you, blood poured out for you. The essence of God’s love for us expressed in the self-giving of Jesus is… serving the needs of others. Would you say this is the central focus of your faith practice? Why or why not?
Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
In this Sunday’s Gospel we read part of Mark’s account of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples before his death. Mark tells us, “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?” Jesus and his disciples were preparing to participate in a covenant renewal ceremony during which they remembered what God had done for the people at the time of Exodus.
Both the unleavened bread and the lamb were reminders of God’s mighty acts on Israel’s behalf. The unleavened bread reminded the people of their flight from Egypt, when there was no time to let the bread rise. We read the instructions to remember their flight by celebrating a ritual with unleavened bread in the Book of Exodus. Since it was on this very day that I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt, you must celebrate this day throughout your generations, as a perpetual institution” (Exod 12:17).
The Passover lamb is a reminder of the new life that God gave Israel. During the last plague the Israelites were instructed to put the blood of a lamb on the lintels of their houses so that the angel of death would pass over them. Not only did God save the first born of the Israelites from the plague, but God saved all the people; God made it possible for the Israelites to escape their slavery in Egypt.
The instruction to remember that God saved them from slavery by celebrating a ritual with Passover lambs also appears in Exodus. After telling the people, “Go and procure lambs for your families, and slaughter them as Passover victims” (Exod 12:21), Moses tells the people: “You shall observe this as a perpetual ordinance for yourselves and your descendants. Thus, you must also observe this rite when you have entered the land which the Lord will give you as he promised. When your children ask you, ‘What does this rite of yours mean?’ you shall reply, “ This is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt; when he struck down the Egyptians, he spared our houses ” (Exod 12:24-27).
At the Passover meal with his disciples Jesus initiated a new covenant renewal ceremony. “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, 7the covenant,” he is comparing his blood to the blood of the Passover lamb. The Passover lamb’s blood gave the Israelites extended life on earth; Jesus’ blood, “which shall be shed for many,” offers eternal life to the whole human race. In this new covenant ceremony Jesus becomes the Passover lamb.
At the Passover meal Jesus instituted a new ritual that is celebrated throughout the generations as a perpetual institution. We call it Eucharist. When we receive the body and blood of Jesus at Eucharist we are not simply remembering what Jesus did on our behalf. Because this is a covenant renewal ceremony we are reminding ourselves that covenant relationships involve mutual responsibilities. We are committing ourselves to be faithful to our relationship with Jesus.
Body and Blood of Christ
In 1594, an Italian Renaissance artist named Tintoretto, completed a masterpiece named “The Last Supper.” One of the many remarkable qualities of this painting is that it does not present this most memorable scene as many others have typically depicted it. It does not have a dark, hushed, awe-inspiring atmosphere with 12 apostles totally focused on Jesus amid a silent sense of wonder and amazement. Instead, what is most notable about this rendition of this famous supper scene is all the activity going on in the room: serving people busying themselves; other servants looking wistfully at the table that appears to have no room for them; a cat poking her nose into a basket of dishes; and a servant talking to a disciple who is holding up his hand to halt the servant’s speech, presumably so he can hear what Jesus is saying.
Busyness, distractions, interruptions.
This painting reminds me of our minds while we are participating some 2,000 years later in a re-enactment of that very same event: the Last Supper, which we now call the Mass.
It’s easy for most of us to find ourselves somewhere in that Tintoretto painting. Like those people in the painting, we may discover ourselves approaching the Lord’s table with a glow of attentiveness to the moment. But, we may also find our minds wandering, our hearts distracted, our focus elsewhere.
What Tintoretto is possibly suggesting in this painting is that our faith will never be perfect or complete, our love for others will falter at times, and our best intentions will weaken and fall flat over the long run.
Certainly, we often find ourselves at the Lord’s table not with a glow of ardent love, but with a scowl similar to that of Judas as pictured in this painting. Sometimes, like the one character in the painting, we have to halt the distractions of others around us so that we can attend to what Jesus is saying to us; other times we may find that we are the ones doing the distracting. Sometimes, we may find that our distractions are caused by legitimate issues of crisis in our lives, the pain of terrible loss, the heartache of something affecting our family life, or the fear of having to face some perceived danger.
This lively, busy, distracting Tintoretto painting is a reminder that currents of emotions, interruptions and distractions swirl under the surface for all of us as we approach the taking of the sacred bread and the drinking of the sacred blood. But, here’s the beauty of this painting and of our life situation as believing people: Jesus is saying the very same words to you and me as he did so long ago to a room full of distracted, scared, half-believing, even treacherous people — “take” and eat; “take” and drink.
No matter what moods we bring with us. No matter what fears we carry in our hearts. No matter what distractions hold our minds hostage. No matter what sins shame us. No matter what.
That’s what Jesus was telling those first disciples at his last supper with them — even while the servants scurried about, even while Judas plotted silently.
This is what Jesus beckons us to do in the midst of all our busyness and all our heartaches. He asks us to join him in a meal. He asks us to take his body and blood into the deepest part of ourselves.
And he asks us to do this in the hope that we will find there the strength and the nourishment and the power to heal our inner brokenness. And there, to create a heart so filled with conviction that it can deafen all the inner torments.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle B, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.