Nothing depicts the Eucharistic Meal more as a mystery meal than the sign that Jesus, in today’s gospel, gave to two of his disciples who had the charge of preparing the venue for the meal. He told them: “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water” (Mk14:13). It’ll be nearly unthinkable in the historical setting in which Jesus spoke to meet a man carrying a water jar—only women carried water jars. The sighting of this “Mystery Man” was an indication of a shift in the spiritual landscape. As they sat down for meal, things quickly turned even “weirder.” He mentions that a member of the club, an apostle He Himself chose, would turn into a betrayer. This news thoroughly perplexed them. As the meal progressed, though the ritual of the Passover supper remained the same as they had traditionally experienced it over the years in their own families, the words and actions had changed. For example, they recognized the unleavened bread, the cup of Kiddush (cup of separation) and Haggaddah (cup of explaining), the bitter herbs, the Charosheth (pastry), the singing of the Hallel, etc. But at this meal, Jesus takes the bread and wine, and in place of offering the traditional thanks, which goes something like this: “Blessed be thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who bringest forth from the earth…,” He rather says: “This is my Body; this is my Blood.” Something earth-shattering is taking place.
Yes, the Eucharist is earth-shattering! According to Romano Guardini, the Eucharist is the steepest, the highest pinnacle of our faith or the narrowest, most precipitous pass through which it must labor to reach full, essential freedom. That is why the feast we celebrate today, called “Corpus Christi” (Body of Christ), is at the heart of our Christian faith and life. Recall that since after Easter, we have been immersed in mysterious celebrations that do not match worldly mentality. The solemnities of the Lord that conclude the Easter season and appear after Easter—Ascension, Pentecost, Blessed Trinity, Corpus Christi, and you may add Sacred Heart (and Immaculate Heart of Mary)—are mysteries marking us out as a people who live in a different landscape.
It shouldn’t surprise us that people in the world and their media look at us as crazy people. They say that we believe in fairytales—just as it would have been a fairytale if someone told them a thousand years ago that the sun is the center of the solar system. But for many centuries, the world believed that the earth was flat and the sun, the moon and all the stars revolved around a flat earth. People believed it because that was the way it looked: the earth looked flat, simple and short. But Jesus who came from above has the clearest sight to see holistically the world made through Him. And when He says that a piece of bread is His Body and a sip of wine His Blood, He means it, not only spiritually but really. The Letter to the Hebrews asks, “If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled, how much more the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God” (Hebrews 9:14). The Letter to the Hebrews was referencing the blood that Moses sprinkled on the people, announcing it to be the blood of the covenant. In giving us the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, Jesus discloses that the Eucharist is the penultimate self-offering of Himself in unbloody manner, which will be finally fulfilled bloodily at Calvary.
But more than a gift, the Eucharist is an encounter between us and the One who gave Himself. In it, we engage in an exchange raised to the level of “holy mystery of ultimate intimacy” (Guardini). In the Eucharistic encounter, we assume a new nature—a divine nature. Just as in marriage, the two become one flesh, so in the Eucharist we share in the incorruptible life of God. Hence, Jesus says that he who eats His flesh and drinks His Blood has eternal life.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo