This blog follows the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem, but this week you get the two books on successive days. The headline is a reminder of the world we live in
MARK 14 22
And as they were eating, Jesus, having taken bread, when he had blessed, broke it and gave it to them, and said, Take, this is my body. 23 And having taken the cup, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank out of it. 24 And he said to them, This is my blood of the covenant, shed for many. 25 Amen I say to you, I will no more drink at all of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God. 26 And having sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives.
There are some simple points which can be made about this famous passage without entering into sterile debates which have nothing to do with Mark’s Gospel.
1. Mark clearly identifies the supper as a Passover meal. The bread is therefore unleavened bread signifying the hasty departure of the people from slavery into freedom. The wine has no special meaning in the Passover meal but is accompanied with a blessing. This gives us the primary meaning of Jesus’ re-interpretation of the Meal: Jesus’ body is the nourishment which sustains people on the way from slavery to freedom. This makes explicit what has been narrated in the gospel, that Jesus’ bodily presence brings life. I have compared him to an explosion of life whereas Jesus’ own metaphor wonderfully inserts himself into the great liberation story of his people. I think that Mark means his readers to see the breaking of the bread primarily as its availability to people, rather than as a reference to Jesus’ broken body on the cross.
2 . The wine, on the other hand, is specifically linked with Jesus’ death – it is shed – and with self – sacrifice – it is shed for many. “Many” is a word from Isaiah 51:12 meaning all rather than a select few. (Sadly the Roman Church is currently equivocating on this by ruling that ‘all’ should not be used in the mass.) Mark reports the phrase ‘blood of the covenant’ – not, be it noted ‘new covenant,’ – which identifies Jesus with the animals killed to mark the Mosaic covenant between God and his people, that is, with the way in which God’s goodness is made available to his people.
3. Mark does not record any command by Jesus to his disciples to repeat the meal as a ceremony, although the Supper of the Lord was widely observed in Mark’s time. This may indicate that Mark primarily saw the supper as an foretaste of the victory banquet of God’s Kingdom – to which Jesus refers – in which the victory is the courageous suffering of the Son of God, and perhaps subsequently of his followers.
4. Mark clearly links the supper to Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and indeed by all his disciples. This meal is not for the faithful few, but truly for the many, including his disciples for whom Jesus’ blood is shed.
I must emphasise that these remarks are not intended as a description of The Eucharist, which is a creation of the church, and includes more than any biblical text commands. If however any form of the Eucharist misses out or minimises elements that were important to Mark, its celebrants ought to take heed of what they are doing.