Jesus’ word about eating His flesh and drinking His blood would sound like cannibalism and be totally abhorrent to the pious Jewish mentality.
He promises eternal life now to those who do so. This radical and new teaching of Jesus causes many of His disciples to leave Him. This is one of the few times in the Gospel that the evangelist speaks of a teaching of Jesus being rejected by His disciples. Jesus’ teaching is made clear in the Passover meal before His death. The institution of the Eucharist is the culmination of the promise of deliverance through the Messiah.
Jesus chose the Passover celebration commemorating the Exodus deliverance as the occasion for instituting the Eucharist. The eating of the paschal lamb was a sacrificial meal. Most sacrifices took place in the temple. The blood or fat of the tail was put into the fire of the outdoor altar of sacrifice to indicate that God is the giver of life. Blood and fat are signs of the life principle – without either in proper meaning, we would die. The flesh of the animal, however, was not burned in the altar fire, but was eaten as a communion banquet.
This sacred meal was common among Semitic peoples. As the diners shared the meal of meat, so also they shared life and all of God’s gifts.
Sacrifice in the biblical sense, then, is not giving up something. It is rather a celebration of life. In the Old Testament, the giving of the covenant was sealed in blood. The new covenant is also sealed in blood – the blood of Jesus and not a sacrificial animal.
When, at the Passover meal, Jesus appropriates to Himself Moses’ formula, “the blood of the covenant,” He is clearly fulfilling the deliverance begun through Moses. As Moses delivers His people and all nations from the slavery of sin and thus completes the liberation of His people and all others.
When we celebrate the Mass, we renew the covenant. God’s saving deeds are for us now, as Jesus’ saving deeds were for those He touched when He walked this earth. To celebrate, then, means to recall our past heritage, realize our present identity and values and be challenged to future hopes. The reason we read the Scripture at Mass is to do all of the things just mentioned. The Word of God challenges us to grow in the covenant relationship.
It is not an accident that signs of Cana wedding and the feeding of the multitudes in the desert both speak of an abundance of wine and bread. “I have come that they may have life and it in abundance!” How profoundly the Lord keeps His promise in every Eucharist we celebrate.
- Fr. John Krenzke