by Br Julian McDonald cfc

Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. “Take this”, he said, this is my body.” He likewise took a cup, gave thanks and passed it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of all.” Mark 14, 12-16, 22-26

Today’s three readings take us on an excursion into the historical events and religious practices that led to the shaping of the Eucharistic ritual in which we regularly engage in today’s Church. The first reading from Exodus is an account of high drama, in which we see Moses involving his people in a sacrificial event designed to engage them in recommitting themselves to the God who had led them out of slavery in Egypt, moulded them into a cohesive nation, and given them a consciousness of being God’s Chosen People. The drama is intensified by the fact that Moses takes the blood of the sacrificial animal and sprinkles it on both the altar and the assembled people themselves, thereby signifying in action that the blood (the Jewish symbol for life) was a sign to them that they were being given a share in the life of God. Their commitment to God was ratified by their communal response (led by Moses): “All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do” (Exodus 24, 7), and then ratified by Moses as he sprinkled blood on them: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his” (Exodus 24, 8).
We cannot fail to notice that these words of commitment and covenant are echoed by Jesus in the various New Testament accounts of the Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night before he died by execution.
The second reading from Hebrews puts the focus on the great Jewish festival of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), when the Jewish people, seeking reconciliation, recommit themselves to God. In the ceremonial and ritual of Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Priest enters the holy of holies (the dwelling place of God in the centre of the Temple, and shielded by the temple veil). When the High Priest emerges from the holy of holies as God’s representative bringing healing, reconciliation, restoration and recreation, he sprinkles on the people the blood of goats, sheep and bulls symbolising reunification with God. The writer of Hebrews declares that Jesus Christ is the new High Priest, who, by shedding his own blood, became “the mediator of a new covenant”, of God’s endless commitment to humanity and to all of creation. That commitment was expressed in similar words by Jesus when, at the Passover meal with his disciples, he announced that the sacrifice he was about to undergo was not only for them but for all. Today’s gospel-reading is Mark’s account of the Last Supper. Using the occasion of the Jewish Passover meal, which commemorated the First Covenant between God and Israel, Jesus, seen by Mark as the sacrificial Lamb of the New Covenant, instituted the new Passover of the Eucharist. In the early 5th Century, St Augustine reminded members of the Christian community of Hippo that, by sharing in the Eucharist, they became what they had received, and, consequently, were pledging themselves to be bread broken and wine poured out for others. To live Eucharist means taking on the responsibility of making the love of Christ visible to everyone we encounter. Every time we come together as community around the table of the Eucharist, we remind ourselves of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ, and we come seeking from him and from one another the strength we need to live true to our responsibilities as followers of Jesus.
In this context, I share a poem written by a Franciscan seminarian, Scott Surrency, and reflecting on the question Jesus put to James and John when they asked for special privileges: “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I shall drink or be baptised in the same bath of pain as I?” (Mark 10, 38)
Can you drink the cup?
Drink, not survey or analyse,
ponder or scrutinise –
from a distance.
But drink – imbibe, ingest,
take into you so that it becomes a piece of your inmost self.
And not with cautious sips
that barely moisten your lips,
but with audacious drafts
that spill down your chin and onto your chest.
(Forget decorum – reserve would give offence.)
Can you drink the cup?
The cup of rejection and opposition,
betrayal and regret.
Like vinegar and gall,
pungent and tart,
making you wince and recoil.
But not only that – for the cup is deceptively deep –
there are hopes and joys in there, too,
like thrilling champagne with bubbles
that tickle your nose on New Year’s Eve,
and fleeting moments of almost – almost – sheer ecstasy
that last as long as an eye-blink, or a champagne bubble,
but mysteriously satisfy and sustain.
Can you drink the cup?
Yes, you — with your insecurities,
visible and invisible.
You with the doubts that nibble around the edges
and the ones that devour in one great big gulp.
You with your impetuous starts and youth-like bursts of love and devotion.
You with your giving up too soon – or too late – and being tyrannically hard on yourself.
You with your Yes, buts and I’m sorrys – again.
Yes, you – but with my grace.
Can you drink the cup?
Can I drink the cup?
Yes.                              Scott Sorrency, O.F.M. Cap. (2015)
Scott Surrency wrote this poem as a homily to which we can all listen and on which we can all reflect. Might I suggest that how we answer his last two questions will be a measure of our understanding of and participation in Eucharist?