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?” 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, 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?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 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 14:12-16 – NRSV)
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.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 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 14:22-25 – NRSV)
When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Mark 14:26 – NRSV)
There are distinct echoes of Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem here – see Mark 11:1-6. On both occasions, Jesus sends two disciples ahead of him – secretly – to make preparations; they meet a certain unknown person who is key to making the preparations; things turn out exactly as Jesus has said they would. And the words of Mark 14:13 are almost exactly the same as the words of Mark 11:1-2. Both passages tells us that Jesus knows what is happening here and he is quiet consciously and deliberately embracing it. One commentator writes: “The effect of both stories is to show Jesus’ knowledge and complete governance of events as his ‘hour’ (14:35) of death approaches. Jesus is not a tragic hero caught in events beyond his control. There is no hint of desperation, fear, anger, or futility on his part. Jesus does not cower or retreat as plots are hatched against him. He displays, as he has throughout the Gospel, a sovereign freedom and authority to follow a course he has freely chosen in accordance with God’s plan. Judas and others may act against him, but they do not act upon him.” (J R Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002, 419.)
Interestingly enough, the preparation for the supper is given more attention in the text than the actual supper.
Exodus 12:3-4 instructs the fathers of each household to gather the family around the table to consume the Passover Lamb. If the family is too small, neighbours must be invited to join them at table. Jesus is shown to be a faithful Jew. Firstly he follows the rituals as set down by Torah. Secondly – and most importantly – he actually becomes the Passover Lamb: “This is my body” …. “This is my blood”.
While they were at supper: In the context of the Passover, what was to quickly become the celebration of Eucharist among the first Christians, was instituted by Jesus’ action and words: “The rich and symbolic elements of the Passover have become subsumed in Jesus’ simple but momentous words of institution. Already before Mark the Lord’s Supper had achieved liturgical form in the early church, although slight variations in the NT are still evident. The words of institution are shortest in Mark 14:22 and Matt 26:26, “‘This is my body.’” Paul adds “‘which is for you’” (1 Cor 11:24), and Luke, evidently in dependence on both Mark and Paul, adds “‘given’” (22:19). In contrast to Mark and Matthew, Paul and Luke also contain a command to repeat the observance. From earliest times the Last Supper has been regarded by the church as the truest representation of its fellowship with Christ.” (J R Edwards. Op cit, 425.)
It is worth noting that nowhere does Mark mention the eating of the lamb – a central part of the Passover. Daniel J Harrington observes: “At a Passover meal the bread would be shared towards the beginning and the cup (actually three cups) in the course of it. Here the cup follows after the bread (cf 1 Cor 11:25; Luke 22:20), which suggests that it was not an official Passover meal.” (Daniel J Harrington, “The Gospel according to Mark” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E Brown et al, Geoffrey Chapman, 1990, 626.)
Take: The Greek word used here is the imperative of the verb lambanō. It can mean “take” or “receive”. Whatever its literal meaning, it is definite! Who would refuse?
poured out for many: Daniel J Harrington writes: “The ‘poured out for many’ alludes to Isaiah 53:12 (one of the Suffering Servant passages) and gives the action a sacrificial dimension. The two OT allusions serve to characterize the death of Jesus as a sacrifice for others. The phrase, hyper pollōn, ‘for many’ is based on the Hebrew of Isaiah 53:12; it means ‘for all’, not just for one or a few.” (Ibid.)
In today’s Gospel (Mark 14:12-16 & 22-26) we hear the words of Jesus: “Take, this is my body”. Jesus troubled the religious authorities because he ate with “sinners” – see Mark 2:15-17. So when Jesus tells the disciples to take and eat, can we think he was really saying: “When you have yourselves sorted out, then come to my table?” Of course, he demanded metanoia: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Change your minds and hearts, and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:14-15). But there is never any suggestion from Jesus that the metanoia has to be completed before we can take and eat. On the contrary, the taking and eating is an essential part of metanoia.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1324) reminds us of the Teaching of The Second Vatican Council: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ (Lumen Gentium, #11)’.” This is in line with the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In a work on the Feast of Corpus Christi, he writes: “No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift.” (R Sargent, Walking in Newness of Life: The Sacraments of Initiation, Paulist Press, 2007, 44.)
This profound and beautiful Eucharistic tradition implies that the Eucharist is there for us, not because we are pure and without sin, but precisely because we are not. Listen to the words the celebrant at Mass says as he holds up the host: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” The congregation responds: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof …. say but the word and my soul shall be healed.” The motivation for approaching the table of the Lord is not our worthiness but Jesus’ invitation: “Take and eat!”
Thus Pope Francis reminds us: “The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” (Evangelii Gaudium, #47.)
Participation in Mass and Communion is a participation in ‘the Sacrifice of the Cross’ – literally the most momentous event in the history of the cosmos! It is therefore appropriate that we approach this participation with deep reverence and great joy, with strong hopes and deep convictions that Jesus beckons us. When we are offered the Bread of Life, our ‘Amen!’ should be spoken without hesitation. This is potentially ‘a life-changing communion’ (Evangelii Gaudium, #138.)
We are all encouraged to make Eucharist ‘the source and summit’ of our lives. Eucharist is healing. It enables us to become sources of healing. It is our birthright by baptism – no matter how broken our lives may be.