Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 10 June 2012
Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26
As in many ancient cultures, Israelite religion included blood sacrifice. Its significance is assumed but not really explained in the Old Testament, although the association of blood with life is clear. The sacrifice described in the Exodus reading is part of the ceremony ratifying the covenant between God and Israel. The shared sprinkled blood of the sacrificial victim proclaims that both parties share in a common life and are therefore irrevocably committed to one another.
The Letter to the Hebrews interprets the Mosaic laws and institutions as pointing toward Christ who is the reality of which they were signs. Blood sacrifice is understood as an anticipation of Christ’s crucifixion, the death which actually accomplishes reconciliation with God. The sacrifice on the Day of Atonement when God’s people are forgiven and made ‘at one’ with God again is probably in view here. Christ is both officiating priest and sacrificial victim.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus’ last meal with his disciples is a Passover meal, when as Jews they would have remembered the story of how God saved them from oppression in Egypt so that they would be God’s people and God would be their God. There was also a forward-looking dimension to the celebration as they awaited the deliverance which would usher in the messianic age. Jesus anticipates his own death within the context of this meal, pointing the disciples to its redemptive significance. Aspects of the meal were already imbued with significance as the Exodus was recalled, and Jesus gives new meaning to breaking the bread and drinking the wine, thus instituting the celebration of the Eucharist.
Just as the Exodus story is the foundational narrative in the Old Testament, so the story of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the heart of our Christian faith, shaping the identity and mission of the Church. Israel was brought out of Egypt with signs and wonders and entered into a covenant with God at Mount Sinai so that they could be brought to the Promised Land where they could live in fullness of life as God’s people. We are saved through Christ’s death and resurrection, rescued from slavery to sin and bound to God in covenant relationship so that we can live as God’s people in the fullness of life that Jesus’ resurrection brings. Paradoxically, this salvation is not gained through a show of power. Onlookers did not see the mighty hand of God at work inflicting plagues on God’s enemies or parting the Red Sea. They saw only a man crucified by the political and religious powers. But Christ’s followers saw the empty tomb and the resurrected Christ. They came to recognise how the willing death of Jesus dismantled the powers that opposed God. They came to understand how life triumphs over death, and love over violence.
Jesus speaks of the ‘new covenant’ in his blood, echoing the words of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33). Jeremiah anticipated a time of radical renewal when obedience to God’s commands would not be a matter of adherence to externally imposed rules, but would come from living out of a transformed heart. This reality is offered to us in the Eucharist. Just as Christ gives full expression to the life of God, so we too become bearers of that life source as we relate to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ offer to ‘take it’ underlines our own participation. We are to ‘take up the cup of salvation’. This is not simply a transaction between Christ and God, but an invitation to radical identification with and participation in Christ’s own God-incarnating life, so that same life becomes the powerhouse and centre of our own being, individually and as a community.