Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (B)
Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
It is a solemn ritual, enacted only on very special occasions. It requires a binding commitment on the part of both parties. Words are exchanged and stipulations agreed upon. And then the pocket knife appears. The pearled handle is cracked and the blade a bit dull. This promises to be a painful reminder that the taking of oaths is not to be done lightly. In the woods behind our house in a childhood long ago, I willingly pricked my finger and smeared a droplet of blood with that of my bestest friend. And we became sisters.
You may have a similar memory that comes to mind as we read this Sunday's readings. Blood is the stuff of life. Not to be spilled lightly. In the Old Testament, blood also conveys holiness on that which it touches. When Moses pours half of the blood on the altar and the other on the people, he marks both the altar and the people as holy unto God. This power of blood to convey holiness is made more explicit in Exod 29:20-21 in the consecration ceremony of Aaron and his sons as priests. Blood is placed on their right ear and on the thumbs of their right hands and the big toes of their right feet. Earlier in Exodus, God had promised that Israel would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (19:6). Now in today's reading, after the giving of the Law and the people's assent, the blood ceremony marks the fulfillment of that promise.
Today's second reading from the Book of Hebrews is a homily on Exodus 24, interpreting the blood of Christ in this same sacrificial light. If blood cleanses, "how much more will the blood of Christ ... cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God" (9:14)? As the Book of Hebrews continues, the author acknowledges that not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood, for "according to the law almost everything is purified by blood." But unlike the covenant ceremony in Exodus 24, the blood of Christ not only purifies, it atones for sins. "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22).
Jesus, himself, draws parallels between the covenant ritual in Exodus and his own Passover. In the gospel reading, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread and gives it to his disciples. "Take it; this is my body." Likewise, he takes, blesses and shares the cup. This cup "is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many." And though we call this the "Last Supper," Jesus promises that the next time he drinks the fruit of the vine will be "when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:25). Matthew will add "when I drink it with you..." (Matt 26:29), making explicit that this banquet includes the disciples.
As CTU Old Testament Professor Dianne Bergant notes, blood in the Hebrew Scriptures is a detergent. It cleanses and makes pure. It elevates the people to a new status, that of priesthood, and makes of them a holy nation. In the New Testament, Jesus recognizes that same power to cleanse and offers his own blood so as to bring the people of God into right relationship. But whether it is Moses enacting the ritual with the Israelites or Jesus blessing and sharing the cup of the new covenant, in both settings the people are invited to respond. "We will do everything that the Lord has told us," they answer in Exodus. What about us? Are we prepared, in the words of Hebrews, to "cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God?" How does the blood of the new covenant cleanse us and makes us a holy nation unto God? This Sunday when the Eucharistic minister announces to us, "The Body of Christ...The Blood of Christ," let us remember that the taking of oaths is not to be done lightly. Our "amen," as St. Paul states, is "a participation in the blood of Christ" (1 Cor 10:16).
By Laurie Brink, O.P., Associate Professor of New Testament Studies
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