“I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.” – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Mark 14:12-25: On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, and say to the owner of the house which he enters, The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the passover with my disciples? He will show you a large upper room furnished with couches, all prepared. Make the preparations for us there,’ The disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them, and prepared the Passover. When evening came he arrived with the Twelve. And while they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me, one of you eating with me.’ They were distressed and asked him, one after another, ‘Not I, surely?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping into the same dish with me. Yes, the Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ And as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.’
Christ the Lord The Jewish feast of the Passover commemorated and renewed the foundational experience of God’s Chosen People: the liberation from slavery in Egypt. The first Passover occurred in the aftermath of Pharaoh’s repeated refusals to let the Israelites free to worship the one, true God. Nine horrible and miraculous plagues wouldn’t budge the stubborn Egyptian leader, so finally God sent his angel of death to slay every Egyptian firstborn male. On that very night, every Israelite family was told to sacrifice a spotless lamb, mark the doorjambs of their dwellings with its blood, and feast upon it. The blood of the lamb signaled the presence of God’s favor, and so the angel of death knew to “pass over” those families in the course of its mission.
When Moses had successfully led his people out of Egypt, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions for the annual commemoration of this event. Such a commemoration, the Passover Seder (or “supper,” still celebrated by Jews) was the occasion for Christ’s institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Mark records the words of Jesus by which he reveals that he is the true Passover lamb. Just as the Israelites in Egypt were saved from slavery by the lamb’s sacrifice, so all men and women would be saved from sin by the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, by the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood out of love for us. And just as the Israelites were to partake of the feast of the lamb, so all of Christ’s followers are called to feast on his living body and blood through the Eucharist in order to share intimately in his divine life. The Eucharist manifests Christ’s Lordship over life and history – it extends his once-for-all sacrifice through all time and space – and shows what kind of Lord he is: one who gives his life for those entrusted to his care, even for his betrayer. It is, truly, the bread that frees us from death. Do we treat it that way?
Christ the Teacher St. Mark spends as much time describing the odd events that immediately led up to the Last Supper as he does describing the institution of the Eucharist itself. What does the man carrying the water jar have to do with Christ’s saving sacrifice? Some scholars surmise that Jesus kept the location of the Last Supper secret in order to insure that his enemies wouldn’t be able to apprehend him there. If he had said openly where they would be gathered, Judas would have been able to tip off the Jewish leaders. Other scholars point out that carrying water was a woman’s task in ancient Palestine, so finding a man carrying water subtly indicates the new order of things that Christ is about to establish.
Whatever scholars may say, however, one thing is clear: Jesus knew exactly how this last evening with his apostles was going to pan out. His instructions about finding the place for their celebration show that the occurrences of that evening were not left up to chance. Every word, every action was part of a drama being directed by God, most especially the highlight – the institution of the Eucharist. This was no ordinary supper, no traditional celebration: the images and shadows of the Old Covenant would give way this night to the fullness of the New Covenant. The Eucharist, the sacramental foreshadowing and prolongation of Calvary, is no abstract symbol; it is the ultimate reality towards which all other symbols converge.
Christ the Friend Christ gave his disciples bread, which had become his own body. Then he gave them wine, which had become his blood. He did this for their sake, and for the sake of all who would be saved from the slavery to sin. What greater gift could he have given them, and through them, to us? Christ continues to take, bless, break, and give the bread and wine that are his body and blood – he does it through his priests of his Church, because he wants to stay with us and be our life. And this gift has no strings attached. Jesus gives it even though we are undeserving; like Judas, we have betrayed our Lord countless times. Every time we ignore or discard the voice of conscience, every time we pick and choose among the Church’s teachings, every time we judge our neighbor and fail to love others as Christ as loved us, we echo Judas’ betrayal. Christ’s love doesn’t depend on our being worthy; Christ’s love depends only on his burning desire to give us the fullness of life. What a relief to have such a friend, one who cares only about giving, and one who can give such an incomparable gift!
Christ in My Life Thank you for the Eucharist, your quiet, dependable presence in every Tabernacle. What more could I desire, having you so close to me, waiting for me, adoring the Father in every moment on my behalf? And thank you for the great gift of Holy Communion, in which you come into my very being to be my nourishment and joy. Teach me to receive these gifts worthily…
You, Lord, are all-knowing and all-powerful. All the events of my life, whether big or small, are equally under you loving, wise care. Please open my eyes so that I can see you in all things, love you in all things, and thank you and serve you as I ought to. Save me from the meaningless routine of a superficial, frenetic, giddy life. Teach me to live as you created me to live…
How my soul needs your pure love! You alone can love perfectly. When you look at me you want only one thing: that I become what you created me to be. Your smile has no hidden agendas. You are love! You love me! How strange, how hard for me to accept this truth, to bring it from my head to my heart! Pound my heart with your love, my Lord, until it fills me to overflowing…
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Man with the Jar of Water, James Tissot, 1886-96, PD-US copyright expired; The Signs on the Door, James Tissot or follower, c. 1896-1902, PD-US; Wikimedia Commons. Bread of Life, Corbert Gauthier, 2002, copyright Corbert Gauthier, all rights reserved, used with permission.
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