Those who refuse to receive from the communion cup today might as well bring along a book to occupy themselves during the liturgical readings this Sunday. Under no circumstance should they listen to these passages. If they do, they'll later get hit with a deep sense of guilt as they walk past the Eucharistic minister.

The authors of our Christian Scriptures presume that all who participate in the celebration of the Lord's Supper will partake of the Lord's cup. They'd have cringed to have heard my religion teachers tell me "in the good old days" that one shouldn't worry about being prohibited from receiving Jesus' blood.

"After all," they assured me, "when one receives the body, the body's blood is automatically in it." They'd likewise flinch at the post-Vatican II attitude of some that receiving the cup is only for those needing "extra credit."

Essential

There's no space here to explain how we reached a point in our religion when only the priest received both species. I can only show from the readings how our ancestors in the faith regarded accepting the cup at the Eucharist as an essential dimension of their faith.

The key to understanding the cup's importance lies in a phrase used in both our Exodus and Gospel readings: "the blood of the covenant."

As with all faith-symbols, blood has multiple meanings. Ancient people associated blood with covenants because blood symbolized life. They never entered into formal agreements or contracts with others unless they were convinced that their quality of life would be improved by those actions.

That's certainly the conviction motivating the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex 24: 3-8). In order to gain this new life, they promise, "We will do everything Yahweh has told us." Then, as an outward sign both that they're committed to this agreement and that the agreement will bring them life, Moses takes blood and sprinkles it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words of His."

This is part of the image Mark conveys (Mk 14: 12-16, 22-26) by having Jesus share a cup of wine with those gathered at His last earthly meal. "This is my blood of the covenant," He proclaims, "which will be shed for many."

Joining Jesus

Mark's Jesus goes a level beyond Exodus by adding "my" to the blood words. This pronoun turns a general statement into a personal involvement. It's Jesus' way of showing that His death is part of the covenant He's made with God, a covenant He asks all His followers to share in.

The covenant blood which now symbolizes life is no longer the blood of sacrificial animals. It's His own blood. His covenant with Yahweh includes the sacrifice of Himself! By drinking His blood we're declaring to all present that we're wiling to join Him in that sacrifice.

The author of the second reading (Heb. 9:11-15) relishes this image. In his theology, Jesus' blood is both the sign and basis of the new covenant which His followers make with God, an agreement far superior to anything anyone ever entered into before. Jesus guarantees more than "a deliverance from transgressions." This unique contract with God now carries us far beyond just improving this life; it offers us an "eternal inheritance."

The authors of our Christian Scriptures probably would equate passing up the cup with apostasy. For them, receiving Jesus' blood is the outward sign we're party to the covenant He made with God the night before He died. It's parallel to our modern practice of "signing on the dotted line."

These writers believe Jesus signed the agreement in His blood; we sign by drinking His blood. Those who know this have a tremendous obligation to receive the cup. They're no longer "off the theological hook."

(06-22-00)