Exodus 24 The Covenant Confirmed, Believe Trust.
Then [Jesus] took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them,
“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
Take a close look at the picture above, following today’s first reading to the letter. It is no work of art, but it does suggest what the event described in today’s first reading, from Exodus, may have looked like. The people had agreed to obey the Law as proposed by God, namely the Ten Commandments, the bedrock of western civilization, in return for which God agreed to be their God, and they would become God’s people, the Chosen People of God. That gave them their identity from then on. Then a solemn ceremony to confirm this event took place, seen in the picture above. A great stone altar was built. This represented God. 12 pillars of stone were built next to it, representing the 12 tribes of the people of Israel. Cattle were slaughtered and half their life blood collected into bowls. The other half was sprinkled over the large altar. The Law, the 10 Commandments, were read out to the people, and they agreed to obey it, saying “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” Then the other half of the blood was sprinkled over the people. Moses then said “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.”
This was a heavily symbolic community action which forever changed the Hebrew people into God’s Chosen. The blood, to begin with, represented life, not death. We say today one’s life blood. That is as true today as it was those 3000 years ago. Sprinkling this symbol of life over the great altar and over the people, the 12 tribes, linked the life of the people to the God’s life directly. So important was this that the annual commemoration of the acceptance of God’s Law, the celebration of Shevuot, the Feast of Weeks, is still one of the three great Jewish festivals. It could easily have been called the Feast of Identity, because ever after this event, the Jewish people were identified as the Chosen of God. It was and remains the most important moment in Jewish history.
Moses Before the Burning Bush, Feti 1614, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.
Then there is the concept of relationship. Prior to that event, Moses had encountered God in Exodus 3, in the famous scene at the burning bush. God gave Moses his vocation, to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt and ultimately for them to live in the Promised Land. More than that, God revealed to Moses the sacred name, YHWH, the first time that had been revealed. God was, up to then, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph, or some combination of that. That is a title, not a name. God, at the burning bush, called Moses by his name. God revealed the sacred name once Moses wanted to know it. This established a personal relationship between them, the first between God and us. At Sinai, that relationship was expanded to the entire Jewish people. As far as I know, contemporary ancient peoples never had such relationships with their gods. Their relationships were more hierarchical, begging or pleading for help. The Jewish model represents a beginning of a different character of relationship, which was to come to fruition with Jesus.
Today’s gospel is set at the Last Supper, when Jesus astonished his friends (note that Jesus had called them that, recorded in John 15:15) by taking simple elements of bread and wine and declaring them to be his body and blood. He even refers to the covenant ceremony described above: “This is my blood which seals the covenant…” (Matthew 26:28), “This is my blood which is poured out for many, my blood which seals God’s covenant” (Mark 14:24) and “This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood…” (Luke 22:20). The Sinai covenant was the reference point Jesus took. That was sealed with the blood of sacrificed animals. Now, not only does Jesus state that the wine of the Passover is his blood, but that we must take and drink and hence take him into ourselves literally! At that point, the relationship between Jesus, Son of God, and each of us becomes intimate, personal and life affirming. No greater relationship could be possible. It is the utter fulfillment of Sinai, to an ineffable level unsurpassed in human history. We are intimately united with God, the fulfillment of the burning bush, Sinai and the life of God. We are not talking about the blood of sacrificed animals here, we are talking about the blood of Christ sacrificed for us!
The Last Supper of Christ, miniature from the Gladzor Gospels, Armenia c.1300, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, USA.
So, in conclusion, it can be said that Christ walks with us, and we with him. It is the most intimate friendship that we have, as explained above, and is the most consequential, as this friendship lasts beyond the grave. True friends stand up for each other through bad times and good, through forgiveness and disappointment, through joy and happiness. Friendship demands loyalty and expects mutual support. All these we have in our relationship with the Lord. We may fail, but his devotion to us is steadfast and permanent. Through the strength of that, seen each time we accept his body and blood to commingle with ours, we can be sure of the path we tread, the direction we go and the goal we seek with a friend ever ready to pick us up, dress our wounds and redirect our life. We are the close friends of God as God is with us! This Friday is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is a fitting culmination of the relationship just described above, the ultimate symbol of God’s love for us, permanent and unbreakable. We are asked to return it fully, a complete and eternal relationship with our truest friend.
Friends, Marie Reed Photography.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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