Corpus Christi – Acting Like Jesus Every Day

The  Last Supper, Fritz von Uhde,
1886, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
(About this Image)

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
(1 Corinthians 11:25)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Corpus Christi
1 Cor 11:23–26
June 19, 2022

This week, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Our second reading is from the 1st letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. We read this letter earlier this year and a general overview can be found in the commentary for January 16, 2022.

This section is especially important for our time but not perhaps for the reasons we may think.

We will first examine the kind of gathering that forms the basis of this meal, then how Jesus changed it and finally how it was abused. We can then see the power and eternal value of Paul’s message.

Male Jews who wished to make progress in their faith would seek to find a Rabbi. If he was considered a close disciple, he would become part of his inner circle, a Chaburah. He would be invited to intimate dinners with the Master. These had a definite structure. The barest outline would be:

After the hors d’oeuvres, the Rabbi would wash his hands, and all would take their assigned places.

He would take bread, break it, and say grace to thank God for the food and companionship they would share. He would then distribute the bread. This would be a sign that they were a company. Remember companions means “with bread.”

After the meal the plates would be cleared, and glasses of wine would be poured for each participant. The Rabbi would bless these cups. This would be an opportunity for him to express his own personal interpretation of the Law and often express a desire for the coming of the Messiah.

The Apostles were apprentice rabbis and would have expected to lead Chaburah meals themselves. Jesus knew this and realized that when he was no longer with them, they would continue these meals. So, he changed the words of the prayers and the meaning of the meal.

..after he had given thanks, broke it and said,
“This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”

(1 Co 11:24)

We may only touch on the basic themes of this passage. First note that “my body for you” is sacrificial: He is offering up his body. Sacrifice was offered in the temple not in private homes, catering halls, or even synagogues. This is a radical change. He then adds “do this in remembrance of me.” Remembrance (anamnesis in Greek, zikkaron in Hebrew) is a special term that we moderns find hard to understand. There are certain events so important that they transcend time and in which people can ritually participate for all time. For Orthodox Jews this is the Exodus. Pius Jews believe that they are truly participating in the Exodus when they celebrate the Passover. Jesus is telling his disciples that when they celebrate this meal which we have come to call the Eucharist they will be participating in his sacrifice. Remember this was on the night before he died, the Passover and the sense of sacrifice would have been hard to avoid. (Further information can be found in the commentary for Palm Sunday last year.

The implications of this are brought out with the cup of blessing at the end of the ritual.

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me.”

(1 Co 11:25)

God does not make a contract, a mere transaction, with us but offers us a covenant. This may be best understood as joining his family. This covenant is sealed by a sacrifice of blood and sharing a meal. This has a long history in Judaism.

After telling the people what God wanted, Moses:

took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said,
“See the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you in accordance
with all these words.”

(Ex 24:8)

Centuries later, Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord would make a new covenant with the people. It is worth quoting in full.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD,
when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant that I made
with their ancestors when I took them
by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—
a covenant that they broke,
though I was their husband, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant that I will make
with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:
I will put my law within them,
and I will write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people

(Je 31:31–33)

This is fulfilled in Jesus. He expects that this sacrifice will be offered on a regular basis. It is expected to part of the Christians way of life.

We can see the structure of the Liturgy of the Eucharist of today’s Mass here as well as the basic theology of covenant, sacrifice, and real presence. It is easy as well to see its critical importance to the church. Paul then is extremely disturbed by how it was abused.

This was a regular meal. Several courses were served, and it could take many hours to conclude. This took spiritual discipline which Jewish-born Christian’s understood but those born pagan did not. The intimate contact that a meal required would have exposed many divisions. There would have been drinking perhaps to excess and as disturbing to Paul distinctions would have been made between rich and poor. As was the Greek custom richer people got better wine and more savory food.

Thus, look at the immediate context for today’s reading:

In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact
that your meetings are doing more harm than good.
First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church
there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it;
for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper,
and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.
Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink?
Or do you show contempt for the church of God
and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?
What can I say to you? Shall I praise you?
In this matter I do not praise you.

(1 Co 11:17–22)

Paul is practically upset because the Corinthians already know about the meaning and importance of the Eucharist and are hearing his words as an admonition. He begins with:

For I received from the Lord
what I also handed on to you,
(1 Co 11:23)

“For” indicates that these words follow his condemnation of their behavior. He is also using traditional language for tradition—literally handing on. This is not from a private revelation to Paul but is known to all the church. He is appalled that they have found their own devisors (see introduction) and desire to maintain the hierarchical social structure as more important that the friendship offered by God.

He understood that we must make the covenant part of our daily lives and appeals to a Jewish belief to emphasize this. It was thought by many Jews then and now that the Messiah would come during the celebration of Passover. Many early Christins took over this belief and held that he would return at the Easter Vigil. Paul had a more profound understanding and saw that the Eucharist forms us and makes us who we are. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we reveal what is important to us. Do we do so as a private club to see our friends and socialize, is it a means of maintaining the social boundaries of the day?

Is Paul condemning us? If Jesus returned this Wednesday at 10 AM, what would he find us as individuals and a community doing. Paul’s message to us is that we have accepted the Eucharist only when we celebrate so enthusiastically with Jesus on Sunday that we act like Jesus every day.