(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
The Gospel reading for this Sunday returns us to the account of the Last Supper in St. Mark's Gospel. On the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ we stop to think about what it is that we are doing as we gather for Mass.
On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, the disciples said to Jesus, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
So Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’
So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
Why does St. Mark tell us this part of the story? Is Jesus able to foresee the future in such precise detail? Or has Jesus pre-arranged all this with the man carrying the jar of water? For that matter, why is a man carrying water? It is usually a woman's job to carry water in jars. What are we to understand?
We can wonder about all these questions, but we can be certain about one thing: St. Mark want us to be very sure that what happens next occurs at the Passover meal. The Passover itself must be an important detail.
Many of us know the story of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt. The Jewish people had been living as slaves in the land of Egypt. God sends Moses to lead the people out, but Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, repeatedly sets his will against God. It is a story that requires much study because it is full of the mystery of God. For today, it is important to know that, on the night before the angel of death comes to each home in Egypt, God instructs the Jewish people to celebrate the first Passover. They follow God's will. They sacrifice lambs and eat them. They smear the blood of the lambs on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. When the angel of death sees the blood, the angel passes over the home, and no Jewish person dies. The very next day, while the Egyptians mourn their dead, Moses leads the people out of Egypt. It is the beginning of the covenant, the beginning of a new relationship as God's own people.
Since this time, the Jewish people celebrate the Passover, this most holy meal. They eat the Passover lamb, whose blood saves them. Its sacrifice is taken into their bodies. Even though the event of the Exodus occurs so long in the past, in celebrating the Passover meal every year, each Jewish person takes part in the saving act of God. The past becomes present. They know themselves to be God's own people. A covenant has been made. In their daily lives, they live as people of God, but at the Passover, they celebrate this covenant relationship.
It is at the Passover meal, in the midst of celebrating their covenant relationship with God, that Jesus transforms the celebration. Ignoring the lamb altogether, Jesus picks up the bread.
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
In this new moment, at this First Supper, it is no longer the lamb's sacrifice that unites them any longer. Now, it is Jesus' own sacrifice. No other being--animal or human--will die to save. Only Jesus. This is the beginning of a new covenant, the beginning of a new relationship that we share as God's own people.
We celebrate this covenant each time we gather for Mass, this most holy meal. Each time the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit and takes the bread and wine, repeating the words,
This is my body,
This is my blood,
Christ is once again present with us on the altar. We eat the Body of Christ, whose Blood saves us. His sacrifice is taken into our bodies, and unites us. Even though the event of his Death and Resurrection occurs so long in the past, in celebrating the Eucharist, each one of us takes part in the saving act of God. The past becomes present. We know Christ in the bread and in the wine, and we know ourselves to be God's own people. A covenant has been made. In our daily lives, we live as people of God, but at Mass, we celebrate this covenant relationship.
Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
At the Last Supper, when Jesus offers all of himself for us, he looks forward to "that day." What is "that day" when he drinks it new? Is it the day of the Resurrection when he is full of the Risen life? Is it on the day of the Ascension when he returns to God in heaven? Is it each time one of us dies and is welcomed into the arms of God? Is it the time when the Kingdom is complete? When is that day?
How long will we celebrate the Mass? How long will we celebrate the covenant with God? How long will we celebrate the saving acts of God?
Until that day.