The readings for today remind us that we are in a ‘covenant’ relationship with our God and that we renew our covenant in every celebration of the Eucharist. We are most fully who we are as Christians in the breaking and sharing of the bread/body of Christ and in the pouring out and drinking of the wine/blood of Christ.
The Israelites of old sealed their covenant with God in animal sacrifice and in the celebration of a meal (Exodus 24:1-12). The blood of the slain animal was sprinkled on the altar and on the people. The people knew that blood signified life: if blood spilled out then life spilled out. The altar signified God. The sprinkling of the blood denoted their shared life with God. They were called to be holy as God is holy.
Evoking the role of the high priest in the ritual sacrifice of goats and sheep on the Jewish Day of Atonement, the unknown author of this letter presents Christ as the high priest in whom the longed for blessings of God’s people are fully realised. The redemption or deliverance from sin that Jesus brings through the sacrifice of his blood/his life is definitive, ‘once and for all’.
Matt 14:12-16, 22-26
The symbolism of the Jewish covenant ritual informs today’s Gospel story of Jesus’ final Passover meal with his disciples. Through the actions and words of Jesus, the bread broken and shared becomes his body broken and ‘given’ for them. The sharing of the cup of wine becomes their sharing in the life of Jesus ‘to be poured out for many’.
Bread and wine in this context have changed their meaning. While all analogies fall short, we might begin to understand this mystery by thinking of the Eureka flag. The flag is constructed of fabric and thread, but it is no longer simply the sum of its material parts. It is housed in a special place in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and protected with the utmost care. Because of its associations with the Eureka rebellion and what that stands for in our history, it has taken on a meaning far greater than fabric and thread.
The bread and wine of the Eucharist are likewise infinitely greater than their material parts. They are Life for us, the shared life of the Risen Christ. Eucharistic life is covenanted life. It means giving life for the sake of the many, sometimes to the point of heroism, sometimes simply by sharing our resources or our time with another in need.