Thought for the day
Hospitality is deeply embedded in human nature and to say someone is hospitable is a welcome compliment. It is no accident that Jesus made use of table fellowship to give people a concrete experience of the indiscriminate love and universal compassion of God. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we experience again that proclamation of the Kingdom. We join our prayer with the prayer of Jesus and the great events of salvation are made present in our time and place. Welcomed as we have been, it is our calling then to show the same love and compassion in our daily lives.
God of welcome and compassion: we thank you the Holy Eucharist, in which we know again your love and compassion. Help us to become what we have received. Amen.
Mark 14:12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he 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, 14 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?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
Mark 14:22 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.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of thea covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 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.”
Mark 14:26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The Lord’s Supper, as an event in the life of the historical Jesus, is both a proclamation of the Kingdom of God and an interpretation of the death of Jesus. In all probability, it was not Passover, but undoubtedly the context is the feast is significant.
Kind of writing
These connected scenes are two chreiai, that is, anecdotes about a particular figure. Both are action chreiai, with the first leading to the preparation for Passover and the second, combined with a prophetic gesture, interprets the death of Jesus.
Prophetic gestures are common in the Old and New Testaments. By an unusual action, usually with accompanying words, the protagonist illustrates a message so as to shock and attract attention. In the case of Jesus, the action with the bread and the wine builds on the Passover symbolism and at the same times is the climax of the open table-fellowship, by which Jesus made the preaching of the kingdom concrete and tangible.
Old Testament background
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:1-13)
New Testament foreground
There are four versions of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. Take a moment to look at the chart on the PDF. Matthew and Mark resemble each other; Luke and Paul also resemble each other. All versions are influenced by the evolving liturgical traditions of different places. It is possible that the earliest form we can get back to would have looked something like this:
He took bread, and giving thanks [or: pronouncing a blessing], broke [it] and said: “this is my body”.
Likewise also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the covenant in my blood.”
Notice that the current Roman Missal shows a further combining of texts.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Verse 12 It is likely that the chronology in John is correct, which places the death of Jesus on the afternoon / evening of Passover. But, even if the last supper was not a Passover meal historically, the context was certainly present and the connections are clear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and indeed in Paul.
Verse 13 This suggests a sense of caution, by means of a pre-arranged signal. Men did not carry water jars.
Verse 14 Notice the strong tone of authority. In any case, it is within the week of Passover.
Verse 15 This completes the reply to the disciples’ request.
Verse 16 This is a very succinct fulfilment, suggesting God’s plan is unfolding.
Verse 22 The action with the bread is interpreted by the words. Looking forward historically, this gesture interprets the death and provides those present with a path of understanding. The message is that Jesus’ death will be their source of life and nourishment.
Verse 23 The important action here is the distribution and drinking. The giving points to Jesus’ death as a gift. The drinking points to sharing the life received by those who take part in it.
Verse 24 The connection with the covenant is made clear. There is also an echo of the Suffering Servant poems in Isaiah 40-55.
Verse 25 This makes the vital link between Jesus’ proclamation and the outcome of his life. In our Western tradition, the death is really cut off from the life—a sudden payment of a price for redemption. But in the New Testament, the death of Jesus is of one piece with his ministry. The ministry not only leads to the death (historically) but the death brings about the kingdom (theologically) The language is apocalyptic and looks to the future fulfilment.
Verse 26 The link with Mount of Olives makes it clear that we have been dealing all along with the meaning of Jesus’ death.
Pointers for prayer
1. The symbolic gesture of Jesus at the Last Supper symbolised the offering of himself that he would make on Calvary, giving his life for others. Sometimes we also are called to give our lives for others. We can do this grudgingly or with a generous heart. What difference has it made for you when you were able to give yourself freely?
2. In his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is essentially fragmented.” What has helped you to be aware of the importance of the link between the Eucharist and your lifestyle?
3. Jesus involved his disciples both in the preparation for the Last Supper and in its celebration. Recall times when you had a heightened awareness of participation and involvement in the Mass. What helped to give you this awareness? Are there lessons from these experiences that you can bring with you to the Sunday Mass?
God ever faithful, you have made a covenant with your people in the gift of your Son, who offered his body for us and poured out his blood for all.
As we celebrate this Eucharistic sacrifice, build up your Church by deepening within us the life of your covenant and by opening our hearts to those in need.