Sunday Homilies- Fr. Luke Uebler
“For 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, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” Words from our 2nd reading today from the 9th chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The idea of blood, and the spilling of blood, is a little repulsive to us. If you’ve seen a deer or some other animal hit on the side of the road or a really graphic movie, or God-forbid you were in a tragic medical emergency, you know how grotesque something like this can be. I don’t know about you but I have a weak stomach and I grow faint at the sight of blood. It may seem moreover that the idea of sacrificing blood on these altars is a little old fashioned. But the idea of blood, in Jewish thought, is that it is recognized as a sort of ‘life force,’ without which we cannot live. We need blood in our systems. When we think of donating blood to the American Red Cross and those who need transfusions, we know how important and life-giving blood is for someone. Furthermore, they say blood is thicker than water referring to the bonds of family. Indeed, blood relationships are some of our most cherished bonds from which we draw life.
When covenants were thus forged, they were sealed in blood as a sign of that life and the bonds of life that come from it. That is why we hear in the first reading about how the Israelites were sprinkled with blood when they made the covenant with God at Mt. Sinai. They were established as God’s own special people having a special relationship with Him, and if they followed the commandments and the statutes which God enjoined on them, they would have life and would prosper. The annual feast that commemorated this was the Passover, in which lambs were sacrificed, blood put on the door posts, and a meal was shared, as believers came to know for themselves the life that came from their relationship with God who rescued his people from slavery and death in Egypt and brought them to newness of life in the promised Land. The lectionary cycle containing our readings today underlines the fact that the Eucharist is the new Passover meal and pointed to the new and everlasting covenant initiated with God. Notice the many parallels with this Passover feast from of old. The Gospel details how there was great preparation for this feast. There is hymn singing. Just as Israel committed themselves to following the Lord, so the disciples act on Jesus’ word: take, eat, and drink – do this in memory of me. Then, there is a lamb, the true lamb of God, Jesus Christ, whose perfect blood is poured out for our salvation and becomes a seal of that new covenant.
Within Judaism, there is a traditional phrase that you say when you raise your glass for a toast: L’Chaim, to Life. If anyone has ever seen the musical, the Fiddler on the Roof, you know joy and celebration of the townspeople as they raise their glasses to the upcoming wedding of Tevye’s and Wolf’s children and they dream of a future of happiness for them, for their families, from freedom from oppression in Russia; they dream and celebrate having life and having it to the full, and they sing merrily: L’Chaim, to Life. That is the whole idea. We desire to enter into that life-giving relationship and cement this bond of communion that we have with God. We desire that divine life, free from sin and death. Blood is life. So, we raise this glass, we raise this chalice, with the blood of Christ, the blood of the new covenant, and in a manner of speaking we say, “L’Chaim, to Life.”
But this is not something taken trivially. Blood comes at a cost. The Last Supper was just that, a last supper made in anguish with those who would deny and betray him. Holding the cup of life means looking critically at what we are living: a cup that contains torture, starvation, loneliness, abandonment, and great anguish: “Father, let this cup pass me by!” And yet Jesus possessed a trust beyond betrayal, a surrender beyond despair, a love beyond all fears. It is the cup of joy as much as it is cup of sorrow. The cross of Jesus from which his blood is spilled is also a throne of glory and a sign of victory, where he himself passed over from death to life and in being lifted up drew all people to himself. As Jesus lifted up his life for others, as he lifted his cup, he turned it into a blessing for all. When each of us can firmly hold the cup with its many joys and sorrows, claiming this life as our own, then we too can lift it up for others to encourage them, be a blessing to them, and signify that we are with you in this life as we share it together. And as we hold the cup and lift it for the sake of each other, we then drink from it, fully appropriating and internalizing the life that God has in store for us, attained for us in Jesus’ blood.
“Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Jesus asks James and John. “Can you taste all the sorrows and joys contained therein? Can you lift it up together with your cross and follow me? Can you live your life to the full whatever it will bring? Can you empty it to the dregs?” There are many kinds of cups. There is the Stanley Cup of victory and there is the cup of poison by which Socrates is killed. Cups come in all shapes and sizes. Jesus says, this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. On Corpus Christi today, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, may we say like our ancestors before us, “we will do all that the Lord has asked us,” and with courage and thanksgiving, say with the Psalmist: “The cup of salvation I will raise.” Le Haim! To life!