Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we call the Eucharist, is not just one of the seven Sacraments. It is the supreme Christian Sacrament and it is presented as such in all the Gospels. Mark makes it clear that Jesus instituted this Sacrament during a Passover meal, which in turn re-enacts the central Exodus event in the history of Israel. For Jesus, this Sacrament interprets his own dying and rising as the definitive Exodus–the supreme act of liberation from bondage–now intended for all people and for all time. This represents for us, therefore, the ultimate liberation from sin and death…and therefore from the bondage of guilt and fear and despair.
In this profoundly symbolic action at the Last Supper, Jesus reveals to his disciples the meaning of his imminent death and resurrection. He will not be dying as a misguided idealist, who loses everything at the end and who is believed by some naïve persons to have been somehow victorious. Rather, he is one who freely gives his life for others and whose love leads directly to his resurrection, since God cannot ignore such generous and unselfish love.
The earlier readings in today’s liturgy, taken from the Book of Exodus and the Letter to the Hebrews, make it clear that participation in this Sacrament implies a solemn covenant, by which we commit ourselves to the kind of unselfish love that we see in the life and death of Jesus.
It is important to take seriously the words of Jesus about the reality of his presence among us in the Eucharist. It is a mistake, however, to think that the profound symbolic meaning of this Sacrament is in any way incompatible with its reality as the very Body and Blood of the Lord. In fact, if the reality alone is emphasized, there is always the danger of a simplistic and magical understanding of this Sacrament.
When we truly appreciate the symbolic and universal meaning of the Eucharist, we will see it, not only as the supreme example of the love of Jesus, but also as a claim on all who receive it to make that unselfish love the central feature of their own lives. In other words, we must by all means reverence this Sacrament and receive it with great devotion, but it is even more important to live its meaning when we return to our workaday lives. Receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord and continuing to be self-centered and insensitive at home or at work is clearly a serious contradiction.
It is very difficult, of course, to be truly and consistently dedicated to unselfish service. When we receive the Eucharist with profound awareness of its true meaning, we experience the reality of God’s love for us and, as that experience deepens, we become ever more free to be the kind of loving presence in our world that Jesus calls us to be.
The importance of all this becomes clear when we realize that our participation in the victory of Jesus will ultimately depend on how well we have lived his message of love and concern for others. In other words, in the end it will be the quality of our loving that will be decisive and not just the frequency of our reception of the Eucharist. It is precisely that dedication to unselfishness in all we do that will enable us to join Jesus in his glorious resurrection. Honoring and receiving the Eucharist will surely help us to live in that way but it is our loving care and concern for others that will make the Eucharist victorious in our lives.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.