Christ 'is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions...' - Hebrews 9:15

When discussing the biblical theology of the Lord's Last Supper, many of us forget that the Christian biblical authors who commented on that pivotal event didn't have access to the decrees of our ecumenical councils; nor did they read our modern catechisms.

As a group, they interpreted the Lord's Last Supper quite differently from later theologians. They didn't even agree on what kind of a meal Jesus shared with His friends on the night before He died.

As we hear in Sunday's Gospel (Mark 14:12-16,22-26), Mark -- along with Matthew and Luke, who copied his narrative -- tells us it was a Passover meal. John not only believes it was eaten the evening before Passover, he actually has Jesus "institute the Eucharist" not during this last meal, but earlier, during His chapter 6 bread miracle. Paul, in his well-known I Corinthians 11 passage, says nothing about Passover one way or the other.

Authors' perspective
One reason for such diversity revolves around how these unique authors conceived of their ministry. They weren't modern historians, committed to giving us a blow-by-blow account of what actually happened. They were editorial writers, concerned not so much with what happened as with the meaning of what happened.

Because they were Semitic, not Greek thinkers, they were anxious to come up with both/and conclusions, not either/or statements. They were constantly trying to examine "the other hand."

Our earliest biblical editorialists zeroed in on the community meal aspect of the Lord's Supper. It was during the "table fellowship" of Jesus' followers that they kept Him alive by remembering Him and recognizing His presence among them as the risen "new creation." He actually became the food and drink they shared and consumed.

It was their belief that they were carrying on His ministry that made both Paul and Mark quote Jesus' words over the cup in a different way than many of us remember them. Instead of saying, "This is my blood," Jesus proclaims, "This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many."

The phrase "the blood of the covenant" refers back to Sunday's Exodus (24:3-8) passage: Moses commands that the blood of the animals sacrificed in the Sinai covenant ceremony be sprinkled on the people as a sign they were committed to carrying out the provisions of the agreement they'd just entered into with Yahweh.

Drink from the cup
In a parallel way, Jesus expects us to drink from His cup as an outward sign that we're going to carry out the provisions of the covenant He's made with Yahweh -- that we're going to carry on His ministry. In this earliest eucharistic theology, by becoming one with those who share this special meal, we're also becoming one with the risen Jesus in our midst.

The anonymous author of the letter to the Hebrews (Heb 9:11-15) introduces a new way of looking at the Eucharist. Comparing Jesus to Jewish priests, he brings up the idea that, like those priests, Jesus offers sacrifice for our sins, leading to our eventual redemption. But, unlike the priests who offered animals, grain and wine, Jesus offers Himself.

We've not only bought into this later theology, it's the editorial we emphasized and developed in our councils and catechisms. Though the bishops of Vatican II in the 1960s tried to bring us back to the "community meal" concept of the Eucharist, we're constantly in danger of reverting to "sacrifice theology."

It doesn't cost as much to attend as to participate. It's easier to just watch than to become one.