What does it mean to live in a covenant relationship with God?
In the Book of Exodus, Moses reads the book of the covenant aloud to the people. It is their first real experience of covenant, and it is grounded in a ritual that involves holocausts and sacrifices, after which blood is splashed on the altar and sprinkled on the people. This common offering, an offering made by the community to God, unites them as a people under the law, and the people respond, All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do. The people of Israel have thus, in ritual form, committed the whole of themselves, their life and their being, to God. As such, their promise is not unlike the ritual commitment evoked in Psalm 116, in which the psalmist takes up the cup of salvation and calls upon the name of the Lord, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the presence of God’s people.
We recognize a similar ritual in the sacrifice of the Mass, as described in Mark’s Gospel: Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, Take it; this is my body. Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. Jesus clearly references the sacrifice typical of Jewish ritual in this passage, but here, he indicates that he is the new sacrifice: This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Jesus is, as the Letter to the Hebrews points out, the mediator of a new covenant, the one and final oblation. Having shared a common cup with his disciples, Jesus becomes both high priest and sacrifice, obtaining our eternal redemption with his own blood.
When we celebrate Jesus’ death and rising, we are participating in the one sacrifice, in the very death of Jesus. The Mass is not symbolic of that death; it is participation in it, and in the new covenant effected in his blood, in his flesh. His is the blood that cleanses our consciences, that we might learn to participate fully in his life. Like the people of Israel, we are called to dedicate our very lives, the whole of our being, to Jesus – Eucharist calls for just such a commitment of the whole of our selves to life in Christ. It is what unites us as a people; through ritual, we come to live that covenant with God, with full participation, the whole of our life.
This post is based on Fr. Pat’s Scripture class.
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