SCRIPTURE TEXT: Mark 14:12-16, 22-26.
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.” The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover. While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
I would like us to always remember that the bible is all about God’s love for humanity. This love is revealed in the many ways he reaches out to his people in their time of need and in the ways he provides for them even in impossible circumstances. From the very beginning of time, God has been the one who takes care of us in every situation. Even though many of us may be blind to his love and care, the truth is that God has always been behind every moment to bless us by the generosity of his love.
In the challenging and sometimes discouraging circumstances of life, God leads us out like a good shepherd that he is, he guides our steps in the course of our struggles, blesses us with the gift of good things in untold ways, and takes us home peacefully at the end of the day.
One of the things that the Lord Jesus reveals to us about God in the gospel is that he is our Father. As our heavenly Father, he watches over us and supplies our needs even when we may not have any clue about the plans he has for us.
When God called Abraham in Genesis 12:1-5 and promised him abundant blessings, there was nothing on ground to show Abraham that the promise will come through. But that did not mean there was nothing on ground. What we may not see, God sees; and what we may not know, he knows. By faith, Abraham obeyed and followed. He passed through many trials and tribulations; but in all troubles, God stood by him and provided for him till the end. God did not abandon Abraham to shame and disgrace. Instead, his story ended on a glorious note. He was blessed abundantly in many ways, especially with the gift of Isaac which was the most important thing he needed in his life.
There are many other cases in the bible where we see God reaching out to his people and taking care of them in marvelous ways. In Genesis 21:14-19 we see how God mysteriously provided for Hagar the slave girl who bore a son for Abraham. Sarah had asked Abraham to send Hagar away with his son Ishmael. When Abraham hesitated, God told him to do it. So, Abraham dismissed Hagar with her son and they went into the wilderness of Beersheba. Within some days in the desert, they used up the bread and water Abraham gave to them and began to be hungry and thirsty. With nothing to take care of her little child and no hope of help from anywhere, Hagar was frustrated and desperate.
Out there in the desert, she did not know what else to do; so, she put Ishmael down under a shrub because she thought he was definitely going to die. Genesis 21:16 says Hagar went and sat opposite Ishmael and in his hunger and thirst, the boy began to cry. Verse 17 says that God heard his cry and sent help from heaven. In verse 18, the angel came to comfort Hagar telling her to take care of the boy and promised her that God will bless his son. In verse 19, God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well of water that she did not see all this while. With that water she nourished her baby and God took care of him until he became a man. In this story, God provided spiritual water for Hagar and her son in their desperate situation. He also provided for many others just as he continues to provide for us day by day.
In Exodus chapter 16 we read about the difficulties that the children of Israel faced on their way to the Promised Land. In the desert of Sin, they were hungry and they complained bitterly because they did not know howor where they would find food. As they complained and grumbled, God stepped in and provided them with food from heaven. In Exodus 16:4, God said to Moses, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.” And he did! In Exodus 16:13-15, He sent them quail and manna which they ate until they reached the border of Canaan.
In God’s goodness and generosity, he provided for the Israelites for forty years. We can ask, where did this food come from when they were constantly on the move and never had the time to farm? Of course, we know the answer. It was God who provided for them. God was the one who opened the floodgate of heaven and poured down food for his children in their need.
As the Israelites continued on their journey, Exodus chapter 17:1 says, they came to Rephidim where there was no water to drink. Again, they complained because there was no way they could survive the heat of the desert without water. Again, God understood and came to their help. In Exodus 17:5-6, he commanded Moses to strike the rock with his shepherd’s staff. Moses obeyed; he struck the rock, water came forth, and the people drank to their satisfaction. Yet, God was not done with them.
In Numbers 11:4-6, they got tired of eating the same food every day and complained to Moses. Moses who could not do anything took their complaint to God and in Numbers 11:19-20, God promised to give them meat which they will eat to their satisfaction. It sounded fantastic in the ears of Moses, but God did it.In Numbers 11:31, he provided them with abundance of quail.
In different ways and at different times God continued to provide for his people in their needs. Three times in Elijah’s ministry, God fed him mysteriously. In 1 Kings 17:1-16 the bible tells us about the famine that occurred in Israel in the days of king Ahab. In that famine, God sent Elijah to the Wadi Cherith east of the Jordan where he drank from the stream and was fed by ravens that God had sent to bring him food. 1 Kings 17:6 says that these birds brought Elijah bread and meat in the morning and in the evening, while he drank from the stream. When the stream went dry, God told Elijah to go to the widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. With a handful of flour and a little oil in the jug, God miraculously sustained Elijah and the poor widow together with her son for one full year until the famine was over. 1 Kings 17:16 says, “The jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry.” God was fully in control.
The third time that God fed Elijah was when he ran into trouble with Ahab’s wife Jezebel who wanted to kill him for murdering the false prophets that served her. After receiving murderous threats from Jezebel in 1 Kings 19:2, the bible says in verse 3 that Elijah was afraid and ran for his dear life. In his flight, he went into the desert. As he rested under a broom tree, he gave up hope and asked God to take his life. But God is not a God of death; he a God of life. So, instead of taking Elijah’s life, God fed him sumptuously by sending an angel to bring him food; and 1 Kings 19:8 says that on the strength of that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to meet God on Mount Horeb.
Let us look at one more case in the Old Testament before we go over to the gospel. In 2 kings 4:1-7, a widow came to Prophet Elisha and complained about the problem she had with her late husband’s creditors. Apparently, the poor widow’s husband had died without paying off his debts and his creditors were troubling her endlessly. When she narrated her predicaments to Elisha, the prophet intervened and by his mighty power, God mysteriously multiplied the jug of oil the woman had in the house. With the oil-wealth God gave to her, she was able to pay off her husband’s debt and still had enough resources to take care of herself and her children.
My brothers and sisters, these are just few recorded instances of how God takes care of his people. Just as the Father reached out in the Old Testament and touched the lives of his people in their needs, the Lord Jesus came into the world at the appointed time and did exactly like the Father by the way he provided for the people in their needs. Among other things, he fed the hungry.
All the gospels record the miracle of loaves. With five loaves and two fish, he fed five thousand men without including the number of women and children that were present in the crowd. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all testify to the fact that the people ate to their satisfaction and had twelve full baskets of left over. From just five loaves and two fish, Jesus nourished thousands of people to their satisfaction. Only God can do it.
At this point, I want us to think of all these different situations that God fed his people mysteriously and know that the God who worked these miracles in the past is still the same God we worship today. He is still the kind and loving Father who takes care of his people in our day and who will continue to do it until the end of time.
Going through the Old Testament, we have seen how God mysteriously and miraculously took care of his people at different times. In all these situations, there is none that we can compare to the gift of Christ in the Eucharist which is the greatest of all miracles and the most mysterious of all mysteries. The Eucharist is not about what Jesus did for us but about who he is to us. It is one thing to do great things for the people you love and then disappear; and it another thing altogether to be present at all times for them in the difficult journey of life. This is what makes Christ stand out in the crowd. He did not just come and go. No, he came and stayed. In this case, he stays with us in the Eucharist which we can define as the sacrament of God’s abiding presence among his people.
I have thought deeply about the mystery of the Eucharist and from my many reflections I have come to know that the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ that has been given to us is not a chance thing. Jesus did not just come up with it as an afterthought. It is something that was originally in God’s plan of salvation from the very beginning; and I know that it has always been a part of God’s plan because Jesus announced it in the gospel of John chapter 6. In that encounter with the Jews, he dwelled on the Eucharist and insisted that we have to eat his flesh and drink his blood long before he ratified it at the Last Supper and consummated it on the cross of Calvary. We must all take it seriously and know that so much of our salvation depends on this great gift of God.
When we follow the proceedings in the passage we have before us (Mark 14:12-16, 22-26), we see that the sacrament of the Eucharist has a long history behind it. There is a certain sense of mystery which we may pass over if we do not step back and think. First, it was set to happen during the Passover which the people of Israel celebrated every year to mark their deliverance after 430 years of slavery in Egypt. This was the greatest and most significant of all Jewish feasts, and the Eucharist was set to replace it as the new Passover by which God has ransomed us from our years of slavery to sin.
Secondly, the location where Jesus was going to celebrate this feast had been planned well ahead of time by divine arrangement as we see in the discussion that ensued between the Lord Jesus and his disciples. Mark 14:12 says that on the first day of the feast of Passover, the disciples came to Jesus and asked him where he wanted them to prepare a place for the celebration. In response to that question, Jesus chose two of his disciples in verse 13 and sent them into the city. He said that they will see a man carrying a jar of water. He told them to follow that man to whatever house he will enter. Verse 14 says, when they get to the house, they were to tell the master of the house to show them the room where the teacher will eat the Passover with his disciples. In verse 15, he assures the disciples that the man will show them the room. He went as far as describing the room as “a large upper room furnished and ready.” Verse 16 says that when the disciples went into the city, they found everything exactly as the Lord Jesus had described.
My question is, how did this work out so well if the power of God was not at work in this plan? This is one convincing reason to show that what was happening on that day had already been designed and outlined by God in his eternal plan of salvation. The lesson here is that God is omnipotent and omniscient. He knows everything and he has his well-planned program for our salvation. We just have to listen and obey like the two disciples so that God’s plans may come to fulfillment in our lives. When we get messed up in life, it is because we refuse to pay attention and follow the master’s command. If we feel we are too wise or too smart to obey God or we think that what he commands does not make any sense, we stand to lose and get buried in the quicksand of life’s woes.
Mark 14:17 says that in the evening, Jesus came into that room with his disciples and began the Passover celebration. In the course of the meal, Mark 14:22 says that the Lord Jesus took bread, blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take it, this is my body.” He actually called the bread his body. In the same way he took the cup in verse 23, said the blessing, and gave it to his disciples to drink. He announced to them that the wine they were drinking is the blood of the new and eternal covenant; and pointing to what will happen in a couple of hours, he told them that the blood will be shed for many for the forgiveness of sins. Again, it was bread and wine but by the authority of his divinity and in line with God’s plan of salvation to continue nourishing his people, he called them his body; and blood and by that divine pronouncement, the reality of his true presence was effected in those material elements of our earthly nourishment.
It is important to repeat what the Lord Jesus said at the first Eucharist. He said, this is my body, this is my blood. He did not say, this is something that looks like my body or something that resembles my blood. It is a reality not an imitation. Therefore, as the Church teaches us, Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present in the material species of bread and wine.
In the theology of the Eucharist, what happened is called transubstantiation. This means that the substance of bread and wine have been transformed by God’s divine power. In this process, the bread is no more bread but the body of Christ and the wine is no more wine but the blood of Christ. However, the species retain their natural qualities. So, when we eat the bread, it still tastes like bread. When we touch it, it feels like bread and when we smell it, it smells like bread. And the same goes for the wine. Of course, those without faith will not believe it because it is beyond human reason and there is no way to verify it empirically. Well, we have to remember that life is more than logic and that we cannot subject spiritual realities to empirical analysis.
Unfortunately, there have been significant disagreements on the theology of the true presence within the larger Christian family. The Catholic Church believes that Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present while some other Christian groups teach that it is only symbolic; and still others do not believe in the presence of Jesus in any form. Some people are confused by the Greek verb “estin” which is used in the words of the consecration and may be translated as “this is in reality” or “this represents.”They hold on to this double meaning and use that as the basis of their disagreement. Well, whichever way we want to interpret that Greek verb, it does not negate the fact that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus.
If we say that the bread and wine are symbols, we have a point but we must understand what we mean by symbol in this case. Yes, it is symbolic because they appear and taste and smell as bread and wine in their material nature. At the same time, Jesus is truly present because the power of God has transformed it through the words of consecration. When we refuse to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we are indirectly telling ourselves that we have no faith in the infinite power of the Lord Jesus who made it happen.
Unfortunately, I have had discussions with a couple of people who do not believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. When I ask them why they do not believe, they tell me they cannot believe because they do not understand how that could happen and I am like, Wow! You are not able to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist because you do not understand? How do you manage to believe in a thousand other Christian doctrines that you cannot explain?
My dear friends, one of the tragedies of the new age is that of absolute relativism in which we pick and choose what we accept and what we reject according to our selfish intentions. Believing is an act of faith which means we do not understand but we accept it to be true because it comes from the One we trust.
When I hear people say they do not believe in the Eucharist because they do not understand how Jesus could be truly present in the bread and wine, it makes me wonder how they even believe in God or how they accept other miracles in the bible which they cannot prove.If they believe that God acted miraculously and mysteriously in the past why is the Eucharist an exception? It only seems like a case of picking and choosing what we want according to how it suits us.
As I think of these things, I see the refusal to believe in the true presence as a result of spiritual ignorance. Take for instance, Paul did not believe in Jesus until the day he encountered him on the road to Damascus. Does it mean that Jesus was not real until that day? Of course, no! It means rather that Paul lacked the spiritual insight; therefore, he was not able to surrender to the Lord of life. And by refusing to believe in what is evident from the scriptures, we count ourselves among those who are still living in the darkness of spiritual ignorance.
The Eucharist is God’s most precious gift of himself and those of us who believe must receive it with gratefulness. We must receive it with reverence and treat it with respect because it is the body of the Lord. A number of people in our Church still feel that they can go up and receive just because they have attended the mass. This is a very wrong attitude toward the Eucharist. We are to prepare well before we receive. The Church teaches us that we have to be in the state of grace before we go to receive the Eucharist. If we have a stain of mortal sin in our souls we should not receive until we have confessed our sins and receive forgiveness from God.
In 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, St Paul says that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. So, we should examine ourselves before we receive because, anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. Let us thank God for the gift of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist and receive him worthily as he continues to feed us mysteriously today as in the past.
Oh that today you listen to his voice, harden not your heart!
Almighty and ever-loving Father, we thank you for the gift of the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. We pray for those who are living outside this heavenly blessing. Open their hearts to believe in the true presence and bring them to share in your greatest gift to humanity. We ask you this through Christ our Lord, amen.