Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
Corpus Christi raises up before our eyes the beauty and value of the Eucharist. It brings to mind the gift of the Body and the Blood of the Lord. The Eucharist stands at the heart of our Catholic faith.
There are different ways of approaching the Eucharist, some of which are devotional. But the bible readings chosen for us by the church today stress the Eucharist as a sacrifice, which brings to mind the Mass. Recent popes have worried that we don’t pay sufficient attention to the sacrificial nature of Eucharist. On the other hand, some complain that attending to the Eucharist in any of these ways can be detrimental to concerns of justice, peace and the integrity of creation, constraining our efforts "to the sanctuary", and restraining them from social concerns beyond the church walls.
Today’s readings suggest otherwise. The reason is the focus on blood that the Bible presents. In Exodus it is the blood of animals, in Hebrews and Mark it is the blood of Christ. What’s notable about this emphasis on blood is the effect it produces: covenants, alliances, agreements, solidarity among those sharing in the blood.
When Moses sprinkles the blood of animals on the alter and on the people, he is uniting a sacrificial offering (sanctuary) and people, making their laborious way across the desert on their journey to the Promised Land. He calls it "the blood of the covenant". Covenant is an alliance, a device for achieving justice, a way of leveling out relationships between otherwise uneven partners: God and humans. In other words, this religious act effects the balance of justice in peoples’ lives.
More cogently, the author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks of blood again, this time, the blood of Christ shed on the cross, far superior to the blood of animals described in Exodus. And so, as we might expect, the effects are superior. The blood of Christ does more than enable us to cross the desert. It helps us to reach the gate of heaven, traversing the distance between earth and heaven. And once again we note that this is a covenant, a new covenant. It negotiates the extreme differences between our lowly selves and the eminence of God. It is a justice device, effecting solidarity between such unlikely partners as God and humans.
We have the privilege of anticipating this blood-facilitated covenantal arrangement with God by our Eucharistic sacrifice, where what Mark describes in the gospel takes place among us here and now. Jesus first took bread, then took wine, transposing them into His Body and Blood, as He proceeded to name it: "This is my blood of the covenant…" Once again "covenant" emerges to the fore – a justice device to bring about a species of equality between totally unequal partners: God and us.
The celebration of Corpus Christi reminds us that what takes place in the sanctuary of our churches brings about an unlikely straightening out of relationships, that can carry over into our social concerns, which desperately seek to hit upon legal and moral arrangements repairing the inequities in our daily lives. We strive to articulate new covenants with earth and sea, with one another, by looking to the Passion of Christ, and His shedding of blood, to restore the original creation of God in our midst, where all of us have suitable access to the land, enabling us, in turn, to enjoy just and equitable relationships with one another, because, thanks to His blood, we enjoy a covenantal bonding with God. A sense of Corpus Christi leads to a sense of Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. ([email protected]) is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.