Eucharist -- a celebration of sinners

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

After God delivered the Hebrew people from the slavery of Egypt, He made them wander in the desert for several years. It was during this period that God entered into a Covenant with them. With this, they became God's people and He their only God. This partnership between God and the Chosen People was ratified by the shedding of the blood of young bulls (Ex. 24:-3-8).

To understand the significance of this act, we must realize that to many ancient cultures, including that of the Jews, blood is the seat of life. With this at the back of our mind, let us continue with the account of the ratification of the Covenant. After the young bulls were slaughtered, Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half he splashed on the altar. Then Moses read aloud the book of the covenant to the people, after which they responded, "All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do." Then Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his." The people's being sprinkled with the sacrificial blood signified their ratification of their life-ties with God and their obedience to God's commandments.

However, though God was ever faithful to the Covenant, the Chosen People were not. This infidelity is often portrayed in the Old Testament with their worship of idols which in effect meant turning their backs from their Covenant with God. And because they did this repeatedly, God repudiated eventually His Covenant with them. Nevertheless, He promised to establish a new one in a future date. This became a reality when Jesus, God's only Son, instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper which He partook together with His apostles (Mk. 14: 22-26). During the meal, Jesus took bread, blest it, and gave each a piece saying, "Take it; this is my body." He then gave each a piece. Over the cup of wine, He said, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many." The cup was then passed around and all drank from it.

After the apostles had partaken of the Body and Blood of Jesus, He said, "Do this in memory of me." With these words, He indicated His abiding presence with and among His New People even if He was going to be put to death the following day.

The New Covenant, like the Old, was sealed in blood. But in the New Covenant, a new dimension was brought in: it was God's own Son who offered His own blood -- not that of young bulls -- "for many" in loving obedience to the Father. In the New Covenant then, Jesus has become our offering before God.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, drew for us the connection and difference between the Old and New Covenant in the context of a sacrifice: "If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ... cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God" (Heb. 9:13-14).

The fact that Jesus celebrated His Last Supper with His twelve apostles is significant. In one sense, its participants were an elite group since they were all individually chosen by Jesus Himself. But in another sense, they were all ordinary people who could sin and fall. Judas, who used to steal from the group's purse and later betrayed Jesus, was there. Peter, whom Jesus called "Satan" and who betrayed Him three times during the passion, was there. The brothers John and James, whose mother asked Jesus to have one seated on His right and the other on His left in His Kingdom, were there. But they, along with the rest, all fled when the guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden. What this tells us is that from the start, the Church Jesus established was and continues to be a community of sinners.

And yet in our day as it had always been in the past, some so-called Catholics refuse to participate in the Eucharist because all they see present there are sinners. But is this not as it should be? Jesus never expels people from His church for not living up to His expectations. Otherwise, He would end up with an empty church. On the contrary, He fills His church with sinners who are willing to hold on to His hand and be led by Him.

This is exactly what Jesus did during His public ministry: He stayed and worked with the twelve apostles despite their weaknesses and failures as He believed that even weaklings could do great things. And His trust in them was vindicated in the end -- most if not all of them died as martyrs as they proclaimed the Gospel throughout the known world.

This is also what Jesus wants to do with us today. Sinners though we are, He wants us to find nourishment and strength in His Body and Blood, trusting that after we have partaken of Himself, we may become a little stronger than the weakling we thought we would always be. Finally, partaking of Jesus' Body and Blood enables us hold on to His hand and thus be molded into what He wants us to become.