“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” — Jesus in Mark 14:24
Back in Jesus’ day, blood and bodily fluids kept people apart. This morning I was reading in Deuteronomy about bodily fluids — that a lack of blood at the consummation of a marriage could mean separation from the community. Or, did you know that if a soldier had a “night emission” during a battle campaign, he would be banished from the camp for one night, and could return to the army the next day? These go along with the laws that if someone came into contact with the blood of another person, or God-forbid (literally) a dead body, they could not worship in the community. As a 21st century Christian, I will admit that I tend to look down my nose at some of these commands, but in their context, they were understood as the grace of God, keeping the people of God Holy and set apart from destruction, in a world that was much different than ours is, today. Jesus came onto the scene and reminded the world that the rules were not ultimately there to separate people, but to bring community.
At the end of his public ministry on earth, Jesus takes some ordinary bread and says, “This is my Body,” and then he takes the fruit of the vine and says, “This is my blood.” In the United Methodist Communion liturgy we usually quote Jesus saying, “This is the blood of the New Covenant…” I like how in Mark’s Gospel, he simply says, “This is my blood of the Covenant.” Yes, it is a new Covenant that Jesus makes, in a manner of speaking. But it’s almost like Jesus is saying that it is the same, old Covenant. There’s one Covenant, and that is that God desires to be present with God’s people. Jesus doesn’t reject God’s Old Testament teachings. We do not believe that Jesus is a separate God from the Jewish God, Yawheh. We believe Jesus when he says, “Before Moses was, I am.” We believe that Jesus is God, reinterpreting for us the Covenant. What was once seen as disgusting and grounds for breaking connection and community — body and blood — Jesus is taking and reinterpreting for us.
In many of your churches, people will say that they believe in loving “all people,” and that “all lives matter,” but when you say that we should love illegal immigrants or say that Black and Brown lives matter, they will come up in arms, unable to understand the reason for singling out these people. If you choose to speak out in favor of building relationships with those on the margins, who are somehow marginalized by the Church, you will be hurt. You will be called “too political,” and you will be called “divisive.” We are in the South, so you will be the last to hear these things, not because people do not like you, but because they don’t want to offend you and have been processing it with others. When that happens, take comfort from Jesus at the Last Supper.
At the Last Supper, Jesus was anointed with perfume from an undesirable woman, and his disciples were up in arms about it, as followers of Jesus always are when Jesus chooses to be at the center of a scandal. Their words must have been like daggers, “Jesus! Do you realize how much this perfume cost? You know the money could have gone to better places, to feed hungry stomachs, right?” Jesus’ response to them was to see the beauty in what she did. And then, the Lord goes right into the Last Supper. He takes what would have made him and his disciples pushed back from the covenant — body and bodily fluids — and he says, “this is of the covenant.”
I doubt that in our Church, anybody will actually say that undocumented people, or Black and Brown people, or LGBTQIA–sexual others are outside of the Covenant. However, we have created language in our systems (illegal aliens, unsafe neighborhoods, underperforming schools, incompatible with Christian teaching, etc.) that does this for us. If you push back against the sinful language that we have created, you will be yourself pushed against, like the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with oil or like Jesus himself, after he said that flesh and blood were holy. But Jesus will be with you.
Consider: If you decide to call Holy what God has inhabited, and if you love the people at the margins, you will see something sacramental — an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace. As you remember the first Communion, the Lord’s Supper, on this day, think about the ways in which it can live in your life. How might you love and serve the people who are held on the outside, who are rejected by the language our culture uses?
Pray: Dear Lord, we thank you for making a covenant that you bring us into. We admit that we have sometimes turned your covenant into ours, your invitation into something that is unintelligible to the outside world. We confess that we use membership of the Church like the gateway to a social club, that we have failed to invite the people who radically give to you, like the woman who anointed you with oil. Please, help us to see the things you have made holy, that we would consider unholy, and give us ways to move outside of ourselves, to where you would call us. Amen.