The Blood of Covenant for Ever: Corpus Christi
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
Theme: “The Blood of Covenant for Ever’
Point of reflection: Am I faithfully keeping the covenant I made with God? Today’s liturgy touches upon the central theme of the Christian faith, that of the new covenant that Jesus made between God and the people through His own self-sacrifice. His body and blood offered on the cross removed sins and created a new bond between God and people. The Eucharist commemorates this remarkable event. Its daily observance reflects the enduring and ongoing significance of what Jesus did during the Passover meal and on Calvary. Participating in the Eucharistic meal, Christians are joined to Christ by consuming His body and blood and thus, sustaining themselves in the new and everlasting covenant with their God. Doing so, they indeed fulfil the words of the Psalmist who celebrated the covenant with the words, “I will lift up the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.”
First Reading: Exodus 24:3–8
Psalm: Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16, 17–18
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:11–15
Gospel: Mark 14:12–16, 22–26
Sermon (Reflection): The Scriptural readings of today point to the reality of covenant between God and His people, this covenant started on Mount Sinai and Jesus Christ climaxed it to be the Blood Covenant for Ever. To understand better the covenantal journey, first, let us biblically examine the Book of Exodus as the genesis of Christian covenantal life.
The first reading from the book of Exodus (Cf. Exodus 24:3–8) describes the ratification of the Sinai covenant. The covenant was a bond uniting the Israelites to their God. This covenant-making was a process. The first step was a solemn declaration of the promises to be fulfilled by those who entered into the covenant. Thus, God solemnly promised that the Israelites would become His “exclusive possession”, a “holy nation” and a “priestly kingdom” (Cf. Exodus 19:5-6). In return, the people obliged themselves to live by God’s Law which was solemnly declared in the form of the Ten Commandments and other detailed laws (Cf. Exodus 20:1 – 23:33).
Speaking on behalf of God, Moses presented these laws and commandments, asking if the people were willing to follow them. Having experienced God’s presence and saving power, the Israelites declared themselves willing to bind themselves to God and live by His covenant. After such a declaration, the covenant-making ceremony could be concluded. An altar was erected at the foot of the mountain. The blood of the sacrificed animals, “the blood of the covenant”, was poured upon the altar and then over the people. The people were thus bound to their God by a bond of blood, as it was confirmed by Moses saying, “see the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you.” From then on, the people were joined to God in a covenantal relationship that obliged them to follow the Law, and which obliged God to keep them as his treasured and special people.
Blood was immensely significant for the Israelites. They believed that life resided in the blood. Leviticus 17:11 states, “the life of the flesh is in the blood.” The ritual spilling of blood was perceived as the surrendering of life and returning it back to God, who gave life in the first place.
In the second reading (Cf. Hebrews 9:11–15), we hear that “ the blood of Christ will purify our conscience”, this must be understood in the context of the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement, a very particular type of sin sacrifice was offered. On that day, the high priest performed an elaborate ceremony designed to sanctify the nation by the removal of all uncleanness caused by the peoples’ sins. The heart of that ceremony was the entry of the high priest into the holiest place in the Jerusalem Temple with the blood of a goat. This blood was then sprinkled upon on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. This rite was performed every year to secure God’s forgiveness for the sins committed by the entire nation, and thus ensure that the Israelite nation would remain in the covenant with its God.
Alluding to this observance, the author of Hebrews presents Jesus as the highest priest of the new covenant. However, unlike the Israelite high priest who used the blood of an animal to perform the sacrifice, Jesus sheds His own blood to redeem people from their sins. Remarkably, the author emphasises that Christ is both the priest and the sacrifice. Since He is also God’s own Son, the sacrifice He offered was sufficient to secure the permanent forgiveness of sins. Thus, His sacrifice was a once-and-for-all act that does not need to be repeated every year. Hence, the Sacrament of Eucharist: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This is exactly what we encounter in the Gospel of today.
The Gospel reading (Cf. Mark 14:12–16, 22–26) contains an account of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. This was no ordinary meal; it was the yearly Passover meal which the Jewish people solemnly celebrated, commemorating Exodus and the Sinai Covenant. During this meal, Jesus performed two profoundly symbolic and significant actions. First, he broke the bread and shared it with the disciples calling it His body. He then shared a cup of wine with them calling it the “blood of the covenant, poured out for many”. The broken bread symbolizes and becomes Jesus’ own body, soon to be broken on the cross. The cup of wine symbolizes and becomes Jesus’ blood, about to be spilt during the passion. Going willingly to the cross, Jesus acts as a priest offering the sacrifice and also Himself becoming the sacrifice. His sacrifice has a twofold meaning: it removes sins and establishes the new covenant. This covenant will not be sealed by the blood of an animal but by the blood of God’s own Son. Jesus’ broken body and spilt blood establish the new covenant between people cleansed from their sins and their God. As a Christian, I need to open my heart and receive the Lord in a form of body and blood.
Christian Act in Word of God “The Body and Blood of Christ in Me”
In the Eucharist, we consume the blood of the covenant and continue to live as God’s own people. Through our own acts of forgiveness and self-sacrificial love, we “shed our own blood” and thus seal the covenant between ourselves, our neighbours, and God. An African proverb states, “Human blood is heavy, those who shared it cannot run away”. While this might imply that shedding of blood cannot be done without responsibility, it also can mean that those who willingly shed their blood for others bind themselves to them in a bond that is permanent and lasting. As Christians, we were bound to God by the blood of Christ, the blood of the covenant. We are called to bind ourselves to God and others through the same kind of blood-sharing, which, is in fact, the sharing of our lives.
For us Christians, the Eucharist remains the supreme way to maintain a bond with God. During His Passover meal with the disciples, Jesus did not only establish a new covenant between God and the people but also ensured that the people would continue to remain in this covenant by joining themselves to His body and blood in the Eucharist. To consume Jesus’s body and blood means to be united with Jesus, and, through him, to be joined to God. Our duty as Christians is to open our hearts to receive the body and blood of Christ, who is our redeemer.
By consuming Jesus’ body and blood, as people of faith, we become like that which we consume. Jesus offered His body and blood in a sacrificial service that brought life to us. When we consume His body and blood, we are taking it upon ourselves to act in the manner Jesus did.
This has two major impacts: first, Jesus’ sacrifice brought forgiveness of sins. Therefore, like Jesus, we are called to the life of forgiveness. As Christians, we need to forgive each other and by doing so, we become like Christ and act like Jesus. We might not have the power to forgive sins committed against God, but we certainly have the power to forgive the sins committed against ourselves. In doing so, we act as the people of the new covenant who have been reconciled to God by His Son’s sacrifice.
The second aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice was a life-giving character to His disciples. Going to the cross, Jesus fulfilled what the author of Hebrews wrote about Him, namely that He would become both the priest and the sacrifice. In the Christian understanding, all believers share in the priesthood of Christ. This means that every believer by performing acts of life-giving self-sacrifice acts in a priestly manner. The author of 1 Peter stated that we are all priests called to offer spiritual sacrifices (Cf. 1 Pet 2:4-10).
We create a bond between one another when, like Jesus, we perform a priestly service of self-sacrifice for another person. This may not require the shedding of our own blood, but it does require the offering of our lives in various ways. In the biblical understanding to offer one’s life through various acts of charity and other forms of assistance is nothing else but offering one’s “blood”. As we partake in the Body and Blood of Christ, let us learn to forgive and act in a priestly manner.
Action: I will forgive all my enemies and will renew my covenant with the Lord and be more faithful to my covenant with my Lord.
Prayer: O! Lord Jesus Christ, as the sacrificial lamb you offered yourself for the forgiveness of my sins and established a new covenant in your blood between me and your Father. I thank you for this supreme gift and for drawing me into the covenant with yourself and with the one who sent you. Help me to be a forgiving person and allow me to receive the Lord, to be born anew and to live with continuous awareness of this bond and help me to live in Eucharistic union with you. Amen