The Covenant Relationship

14 June 2009. Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Exodus 24, 3-8; Psalm 116; Heb 9, 11-15; Mark 14, 12-16, 22-26

One comment from Youtube said that Catholics are cannibals because of what we believe about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. But it is not the first time I heard this comment; history has it. And so, allow me to attempt an explanation just from the Sunday readings.

The first reading from Exodus tells us how the people of the past established covenants or agreements. When the Israelites agreed to willingly accept the will of Yahweh, Moses wrote the stipulations; meaning the terms of agreement demanded of the people. Sacrifices made covenants. Moses read “the book of the covenant” and then sprinkled blood on both the altar and the people. Blood symbolized life for the Israelites; the altar symbolized God. Sharing the same blood from the animals, a union was created. However in this ancient ceremony, the conditions that would preserve the blood relationship became the focus.

The second reading from Hebrews tells us of a new covenant formed from the sacrifice of Christ. And by His blood, He restored our relationship with God, and thus formed a new covenant. In the past, people who were ritually unclean became purified when sprinkled with the ashes of a young female cow. Thus, the author of Hebrews said Christ’s blood was more powerful and potent in the forgiveness of sins, purification and making a covenant relationship.

Finally, the Gospel tells us that Christ Himself said when He took, blessed, broke and gave the bread to the disciples, “Take it, this is my body.” And then, He took the cup with wine, gave thanks and gave it to them to drink, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” The words of the Institution of the Eucharist, which we hear during consecration, pegs the belief of Catholics that what we take during communion is the Real Presence of Jesus. When the words and actions of Jesus are said during the consecration, the bread and the wine transubstantiates into the real presence of Jesus. And why do we repeat what Jesus did? Because He said so: we do it to remember Him. In other words, our memory will open our eyes to really see His real presence. And so, when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we commit ourselves in a new covenant (second reading) and become one with Christ, united by His body and blood (the first reading). And because Christ lives in us, we become the presence of Christ in the world.

How can we live up to the new covenant? How can we become the presence of Christ in the world? There are three things we see in the readings today (and I am sure there are more, like the obvious Ten commandments or the Beatitudes). First, the restoration of a relationship. For those who have strained relationships, we can restore family ties, friendships or partnerships by forgiveness or dialogue.

Second, the commitments we enter into. It may be the start of a business partnership, a new significant other, or a new vocation as we have seen in marriage and in taking religious vows. Commitments will require a change. By entering into a relationship, you have willfully decided to be determined by another person. You’re schedule will revolve and include them.

Third, maintenance of a relationship. The most difficult part of a relationship is not entering or ending it, but maintaining it. Many people who have long relationships enrich and strengthen their commitment by doing many things. It can be in the business of remembrance: the regular celebration of birthdays and anniversaries, the reliving of significant memories may involve keeping a photo album, a scrapbook, or a box of things taken from restaurants the couple dined.

It can be in the business of creativity: of experimenting on new ways of expressing love. There are a hundred and one ways of showing our love --- ways whose purpose is the show of affection. For those who think that sex is the one and only expression of love, sorry you lack imagination. Because the purpose of genital activity is not just an expression of love, but for the creation and education of children. You don’t use a DVD machine to cook food; you use it to watch movies. It requires sacrifice to wait till marriage; to delay gratification. GK Chesterton said that dead things go with the flow, living things can go against it. This is the time to show life. To live requires sacrifice.

One final word. Entering into a covenant is not a free ride. It will always involve some form of “blood letting”. The sooner we accept the reality that everything has a price, we will soon be able to see that to blame God for our difficulties is nonsense. He worked for our salvation. Even God Himself has to die. In Scripture, the Greek term for covenant is the same for a testament. A testament, like a last will and testament, is an agreement that the will of the person will be executed only after death. Thus, entering into a relationship is, as popular tenets say, a death wish.

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