The Blood of the New Covenant

After Jesus had washed their feet, suddenly he again dramatically shifted the mood in the room by saying, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me” (Mk. [14:17]).

Heads turned to Jesus, shocked by his statement. Everyone but Judas searched their minds to consider if it was them. Eleven of the apostles were saddened by Jesus’s comment; then, one by one, they all replied, “Surely you don’t mean me?” (Mk. [14:19]). In turn, Jesus replied,

It is one of the Twelve … one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born. (Mk. [14:20]–21)

After hearing Jesus say this, Judas grew uncomfortable and uneasy on his cushion. He was the one who had shared the bowl with Jesus for dipping the unleavened bread. Frantically, he wondered what Jesus might know.

Judas remained silent, hoping the moment would pass and no further conversation about betrayal would occur. He was embarrassed but did not let it show. Silently, he wanted to leave so he would no longer be twisting inwardly with anxiety.

The room grew uncomfortable—some thought it was Judas Jesus was talking about. Stillness and stiffness filled the air. Not knowing what to do next, the apostles returned to eating their meal, this time in silence.

Then, Jesus stood up and took the bread, which he broke into pieces, and gave it to everyone in the room. When all had received the bread, Jesus said, “Take it; this is my body” (Mk. [14:22]).

This moment harkens back to when John the Baptist first saw Jesus. John had been quizzed by the religious leaders as to whether he was the Messiah or a prophet. John the Baptist replied, “He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Jn. [1:27]).

Later, when John the Baptist saw Jesus walking, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. [1:29]). This statement, made at the beginning of Jesus’s earthly mission, is directly connected to the Passover lamb, but it is also connected to the crucifixion and its purpose. Jesus’ body would be broken during the crucifixion for all believers to share. Symbolically, Jesus was also the Passover lamb, who would save and redeem those who believed in him.

While the Twelve were trying to understand Jesus’ comment about the bread and his body, Jesus picked up a cup of wine and said,

Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. (Matt. [26:28]–29)

Jesus drank from the cup and gave it to John, who also drank from it. John passed it to the right. And on the cup went, passed to the person on the right. Finally, Judas received the cup and drank from it as well.

The statement “this is my blood of the covenant” draws parallels with the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible. The concept of a covenant was introduced by God when he pledged land and a future to Abraham and his lineage.

In biblical terms, a covenant signifies an agreement God forms with his people. Not limited to Abraham, God also made covenants with figures like Moses and Noah. While the Twelve might have grappled with Jesus’ words, they paid close attention. Jesus was ushering in a new covenant, offering forgiveness of sins and a renewed life to believers.

In the present day, the bread and wine are similar to this inaugural communion. It is our affirmation of belief in both the crucifixion and the resurrection.

Though Jesus initiated the first communion, its significance remained elusive to those present. They struggled with concepts like being “poured out for many” and Jesus’ vow of abstaining from drinking until the advent of God’s new kingdom. Their comprehension, however, was on the horizon.

Jesus then led them in a final hymn and ended the meal. They all rose from the table and headed back to Bethany and the Mount of Olives.

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash