"You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.
He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. " (Mark 16,5)


THE LORD'S SUPPER - (1COR 11,17-34) - III (2)

Fr. G. Claudio Bottini ofm sbf - jerusalem
translated by Fr. Lionel Goh ofm


2) The Eucharistic tradition received and transmitted by Paul (11,23-26)

(1) A comment on these verses broaden the scope of study. It should be noted that texts on the Eucharist conserved in the New Testament are final points of a long history; starting from Jesus and ending at the christian community founded by the apostles. These texts are also the fruit of a long historical process marked by various stages (Jesus, the apostles, the communities) which testify and reflect the eucharistic practices of the early christian communities. They recall not only the Last Supper but also the other suppers of Jesus with his disciples before and after the Resurrection; and with other gospel personages. It is also noted that these eucharistic texts were handed down "in context", that is they are inserted into other well-defined and characteristic texts.

(2) The narrative of the Last Supper of Jesus before his death is found in four New Testament texts: Mk 14:22-25; Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:15-20 and 1Cor 11:23-26.

Mt 26,26-29 Mc 14,22-25 Lc 22,15-20 1Cor 11,23-26

And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."
And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said,

cf. v. 29 cf. v. 25 "Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine

until the kingdom of God comes." cf. v. 26c

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered you,
Now as they were eating, Jesus And as they were eating, Then, namely on the night when he was betrayed
Jesus took bread, blessed it he took bread, and blessed, And he took bread, and when he had given thanks took bread, and when he had given thanks
and broke it and broke it he broke it he broke it
gave it to his disciples gave it to them and gave it to them
saying and said saying and said
" Take eat; this is my body." "Take; this is my body.". "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in rememberance of me." "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me".
And he took a cup And he took a cup And likewise the cup after supper In the same way also the cup, after supper
and when he had given thanks and when he had given thanks

he gave it to them he gave it to them

and they all drank of it.

saying And he said to them saying saying
"Drink of it, all of you

For this is the blood of my covenant which is poured out for many "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. " "This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
I tell you I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." cf. v. 18

Some interesting facts emerge from a quick glance and comparison of the above. Matthew's account traces substantially that of Mark's and thus is justifiable to think of a literary dependence. On the other hand, Luke's and Paul's accounts share a similarity, but it is not possible to deduce that there exists a direct reciprocal dependence; and they differ from Mark. Besides, the account recalled by Paul is prior to Paul himself and comes from a tradition from the antiochean Church probably in c40 AD. Paul himself says that he transmits what he "had received from the Lord" (1Cor 11:23a). Luke's account appears to depend partly on Mark and in part from a parallel tradition transmitted by Paul. In brief the comparison above singles out two literary elements: the account of Mark and the account of Paul.

Scholars further isolate some other elements of literary tradition. Mark's narrative depends on an earlier account of the Jesus' passion which was closely linked to the announcement of the betrayal. This can be seen in the exceptional convergence of the Synoptics and John (Mk 14:17-21; Mt 26:20-25; Lk 22:14.21-23; Jn 13:21-23). The eucharistic narratives have a liturgical character and recalls the eucharistic practice of the first communities. Looking further back into the tradition, one reaches the fundamental moments of Jesu' Last Supper: the blessing, the breaking of bread, the explanantory words said over the bread and wine, the promise to sit again at table with ther disciples at the eschatological banquet. Thus one can say that the eucharistic texts presents a precise event in the life of Jesus and with the meaning Jesus himself conferred to this event.

Another element of the earliest tradition of the Lord's Supper is its character as a Passover meal. This is a fact explicitly agreed among the Synoptics (cf Mk 14:12-17; Mt 26:17-20; Lk 22:8.15). John leaves out this element and coincides the death of Jesus with the slaughter of the passover lambs in the Temple (cf Jn 18:28; 19:14.31) probably because he is guided by doctrinal perspectives in which Jesus came to be identified as the Passover Lamb (cf 19:36).

The testimony of the Synoptics is confirmed by other evidences: the passover meal was eaten in the night while the others were eaten in the afternoon; 1Cor 11:23 specifies that Jesus was seated at table "on the night in which he was betrayed"; many notes in the Gospels allude to the Passover (singing the Hallel pslams in Mk 14:26 and Mt 26:30; passing the night at Gethsemani instead of Bethany as was usual Mt 21:17; Mk 11:11; Jn 12:1-11; ritual gestures proper to the passover meal in Mk 14:22f and 1Cor 11:24). The absence of the mention of the bitter herbs and the lamb clearly points to the texts as we have them today as being of a liturgical nature.

(3) (3) The paschal character of the Lord's Supper is important for several reasons. Firstly what is implied by the gestures and words of Jesus over the bread and wine are linked to a cultic context. In the jewish passover meal, it fell upon the father of the house to explain the symbolism of the unleaven-bread, of the immolated lamb, of the bitter herbs and other rituals which commemorate the liberation of Israel from slavery in Egypt during the exodus. As long as the jews eat the passover meal, they share a part in this salvific and redemptive event. Within this context, Jesus began the meal by explaining the symbolism of the bread which he broke and distributed to those present, but what he said was absolutely original and clear in meaning: "This is my body". The language is symbolic but the identification between it and the bread is unequivocal. On the night before his death, Jesus gave himself to his friends through the sign of bread broken. The immediate reference is to the violent death which befalls Jesus and which Jesus is very well-aware of. The words which he spoke over the cup of wine at the end of the passover meal are even more explicit than those pronounced over the bread: "This is my blood poured out for many". His is therefore a death which gives salvation to humanity just as the Servant of Yahweh dies for all the people (cf the book of the prophet Isaiah which refers to the words of Jesus).

The parallel meaning between the jewish passover meal and the gestures/words of Jesus can be further made explicit. Just as the jewish passover meal was a living memorial of the salvific event of Israel's liberation, so too the Lord's Supper is a living anticipation of his death on the cross for salvation. In the meal, Jesus anticipates ritually through the signs of bread broken and cup shared, his death and thus revealing the meal's profound meaning. The liberation from slavery of which the jewish passover meal is a memorial, is relevant only for the people of Israel. The death of Jesus, anticipated in the actions/words of the Last Supper, is a redemption from sin for all of humanity.

There is another feature present in both events. The jewish passover meal was celebrated in an atmosphere of eschatological expectation, that is, the definitive fulfilment of salvation by God. The Lord's Supper contains explicitly this element. According to Mark's gospel, Jesus declares: "In truth I tell you I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mk 14:25). At so dramatic a moment, Jesus announced the promise of a new communion at the table of God's kingdom. In the Pauline tradition, this idea is implicitly present when Paul says: "Indeed each time when you eat this bread and drink this cup, you announce the death of the Lord until he comes" (1Cor 11:26). In this perspective the Lord's Supper is an announcement of the messianic banquet, an image of the definitive reign of God.

(4) It may be said that characteristic of the texts conserved in the tradition of the Lord's Supper, is the clear indication of their liturgical aspect. This means that the most ancient liturgical practices may explain some words and meaning of the Lord's Supper, but nevertheless maintaining coherence with the tenor and original sense of the words/gestures of Jesus. The liturgical tradition brings out the meaning of the words spoken over the bread: "which is given for you / which is for you" (found in Luke and Paul). These words are explicit in the sense that they become the expressed self-giving of Jesus as a sacrificial and expiatory offering. This connotation in the Lucan text reappears in the words over the wine: "which is poured out for you". Derived also from the liturgy are the words "Do this is memory of me" which Luke records together with the words over the bread and Paul over the wine; or with the imperatives "Take" (Mark), "Take; eat!" (Matthew) and "Drink of it, all of you" (Matthew).

From the greek-speaking mileau comes a liturgical expression "blood of the covenant" which introduces the covenantal theme of the words said over the wine according to the Marcan tradition. The death of Jesus is thus interpreted as a covenantal sacrifice between God and humanity (Ex 24:8). The same theological motive, but with a substantial twist, is found in the liturgical tradition of the Lucan and Pauline texts. It reads "This cup is the new covenant". The novelty of this phrase lies precisely in the clear reference to the celebrated prophecy of Jer 31:31-34.

It is important to specify that some of these words, which some scholars attribute to liturgical tradition, may actually go back to Jesus himself. It is precisely because these words that the apostles were able to understand the "newness" of the rite (with respect to the jewish paschal meal) which Jesus was instituting.

"The Lord's Supper thus finds a living and constant realization in the eucharistic experience of the christian community, when repeating the gestures and words of Jesus, which it celebrates as a memorial. The memorial of the Last Supper and that of Golgotha are an inseparable unity; as also the memorial of Christ's firm hope in participating in the eschatological banquet. In brief, the ecclesial celebration of the Lord's Supper condenses in itself a complex religious experience, re-evoking the past, ie the Supper and death of Christ. It is a participation in the present of salvific efficacy of the cross and faithfully looks forward to the final fulfillment of God's plan" (Barbaglio, "L'istituzione", 134-135). The realisation of the Lord's Supper is total: Jesus of Nazareth and the resurrected Christ are the same person; the believers, ie the "you" in the memorial narratives seated at the "Lord's table" (1Cor 10:21) are co-protagonists: past, present and future are fused.

(5) Yet another note regarding the eucharistic narratives. The Last Supper account was connected to the announcement of the betrayal ever since the beginning of the gospel tradition. In Mark we read "In truth I tell you, the one who eats with me will betray..."The Son of Man will go, as it is written of him, but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" (Mk 14:18.21). Matthew folows the Markan texts but adds the name of Judas (Mt 26:25). In Luke however the announcement of the betrayal follows the account of the Supper (Lk 22:21-23). Scholars accept the originality of Luke' sequence and think that Mark and Matthew have changed the sequence for reason of excluding Judas from the meal. The most important point however is the information that the temporal context of the Supper according to the Synoptics was the "handing over" of Jesus to death; and that of the Pauline tradition is "the night in which he was betrayed" (1Cor 11:23). The word that characterises this circumstance is paradidomi which besides meaning the betrayal or "handing over" by Judas, also expresses the giving up of Jesus by the father and the self-surrender of Jesus. In this light, the death of Jesus, anticipated in signs and proleptically explained by Jesus himself, is a sign of the Father's loving initiative and Jesus' free and conscious self-giving. In the Matthean eucharistic narrative is also found an addition characteristic of his theology. To the words of Jesus over the wine is further added: "in remission of sins". In this way the expiatory effect of Jesus' death is clearly expressed: Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity.

I have deliberately (and for various reasons) made this ample, comparative study of the tradition of the Lord's Supper. The first reason is that 1Cor 11:17-34 has placed before us a text of great importance in antiquity and meaning. The second is that in the preceding sessions of the biblical week, we have not commented on the eucharistic texts of the New Testament and this occassion appears to me an opportuned moment to do it.

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