The Body and Blood of Christ Year B (6 June 2021)
The Gospel for today’s feast reminds us that we are in a “covenant” relationship with our God. We renew that covenant in every celebration of the Eucharist. The Israelites of old sealed their covenant with God in animal sacrifice, a practice we may wish to critique, 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. 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 taken on a new meaning.
While all analogies fall short, we might begin to understand this mystery by considering the Eureka flag. The flag is constructed of fabric and thread. It is presently on loan from the Ballarat Art Gallery to the Eureka Centre and protected with the utmost care. Because of its associations with the Eureka rebellion and what Eureka stands for in Australian history and folklore, it carries the story that informs its creation as well as all the goodness of its fabric and thread. It has acquired multiple levels of meaning.
Through the actions and words of Jesus, the bread and wine of the Eucharist have likewise come to signify something entirely new along with all the goodness of their materiality. They are Life for us, the shared life of the Risen Christ. We are called to bring that life to others, to give life for the sake of the many. Reading the passage in the context of Mark’s gospel provides some insight into how we might do this. The eleven preceding verses recount stories of contrasting responses to Jesus as he faces his final days: temple authorities plot to destroy him; an unnamed woman “breaks” an alabaster jar and “pours” the healing perfume on his head, thus anointing his body “for burial” by means of a “eucharistic” action; Jesus declares that what she has done will be told “in remembrance of her”; a close friend seeks to betray him.
Betrayal and rejection are ever present possibilities even in Eucharistic communities. We are all too aware of this as we endeavour to address the consequences of child sexual abuse. We need to learn from the other possibility presented to us in this context, namely that of pouring out the healing perfume of compassion and love. Our “pouring out” at this time might include sharing vaccines with countries that cannot afford to buy them.