Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
April 1, 2010
“This is the new covenant in my blood.” I Corinthians 11:25
When Jesus Christ took that celebrated and precious cup into His hands the night before He died, St. Paul tells us, as he told the Corinthians, Jesus spoke these words: “This is the new covenant in my blood” (I Corinthians 11:25). St. Paul was repeating what he had been taught, what he had received, what he was so intent upon passing down in an unbreakable tradition. Three other Evangelists recorded the same, like St. Mark: “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many” (Mark 14:24). Those were not empty words. They were deliberately chosen. The words would have burned in their hearts: “The blood of the covenant.”
“The blood of the covenant” first appears in the Old Testament in the Book of Exodus. Let us set the stage. The Hebrew people had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They were wandering towards the Promised Land, living their forty year journey, and they stopped at Mt. Sinai. There God made them a people all His own. To do this He established a covenant. He gave them the Ten Commandments. He had Moses read those commandments to them. As with any agreement, there had to be a signing of the contract. To do this a sacrifice was made. Moses first built an altar. Moses then took the sacred animal, the bull, to be sacrificed, but emptied the blood of the bull into separate bowls. This is how the Book of Exodus describes it:
Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half
he splashed on the altar. Taking the book of the covenant, he read it
aloud to the people, who answered, ‘All that the Lord has said, we will
heed and do.’ Then he 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’ (Exodus 24:6-8).
The blood of the covenant binds God, represented by the altar, and the People of God. Both God and People participate in the “blood of the covenant” that seals their union. The blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled on both, binding them in an unbreakable covenant. This is the blood of the covenant.
When Jesus gives His Church His own Body and Blood, it is done with a New Covenant in mind. The Church is His covenanted people. “The blood of the covenant” will not be the blood of a bull. “The blood of the new covenant” will be the blood of God’s own Son. Jesus is the sacrificial victim. Redemption is a great return. The Father has given the Son everything. Now the Son returns everything to the Father in a perfect sacrifice. The Son, however, returns to the Father not only Himself but also those who participate in the New Covenant, a New People of God, His Church, made so by their participation in “the blood of the new covenant.”
The night before He dies, Jesus prays in the Gospel of St. John:
Give glory to your Son that your Son may give glory to you, inasmuch as
you have given him authority over all mankind, that he may bestow eternal
life on those you gave him…. I have given you glory on earth by finishing
the work you gave me to do. Do you now, Father, give me glory at your
side, a glory I had with you before the world began (John 17:1-2, 4-5).
The Son is returning to the Father. He is opening His arms on the cross in an act of thankful praise, as a sacrificial victim, not empty handed but filled with “these you have given me, for they are really yours” (John 17:9). The blood of the Lamb has purchased them. We have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb. St. Peter writes, “Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price” (I Peter 1:18-19). By this blood we are redeemed, with this blood we are made one, and in this blood we participate.
Some will ask why we call this participation the Eucharist. Where in the Bible do we find such a word as Eucharist? We must first realize that Eucharist is a Greek word. The New Testament comes down to us in the Greek language. “Eucharist” is a Greek word, eucharistia, meaning “thankfulness.” Consider the Eucharistic institution in St. Paul, our second reading for this Holy Thursday. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks [the word in Greek used is eucharistesas], broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (I Corinthians 11:23-24). In each account of the institution, the word “Eucharist” is used to describe this act of thanksgiving.
And what do we do when we give thanks? I return something. I make a return to the giver for what he has given me. If someone gives me something precious, then I offer that person thanksgiving and try to return something precious. But when someone has given us something priceless, then what can we return to show our gratitude? Thanksgiving, Eucharist, is that which is given and returned. God, the Eternal Father, has given His Word flesh, as we read in the Gospel of St. John, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Now the Word made flesh gives the Church His flesh for food. As Jesus expresses it, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). In a great act of thanksgiving, Eucharist, the Son returns to the Father what He was first given in an act of sacrifice. In that act of redemption, Jesus joins His flesh to ours so that we can be part of the sacrifice also. In thanksgiving He returns to the Father not only Himself but also the redeemed, who are redeemed because they participate in “the blood of the new covenant.” For this reason St. Paul can say, “Every time, then, you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes!” (I Corinthians 11:26).
All this happened on this night. All this happens tonight and at every moment the Eucharist is relived on our altars. “Eucharist” is not just found in the Bible. “Eucharist” is what the Bible is all about. “Eucharist” is the message of salvation. We are Eucharistic people, because by the act of this act of thanksgiving we are redeemed. “Eucharist” is the Last Supper, Calvary, and the Resurrection consolidated into one moment of participation in the divine “blood of the new and eternal covenant for the forgiveness of sins.”
Bishop Glen John Provost