In today’s reading from the Book of Exodus, the sacred writer brings to a close that which was begun yesterday. Several chapters have been omitted from our continuous reading. Yesterday we heard of the beginnings of the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel as we read of the ten commandments. This is followed by several chapters of a list of other ordinances and laws concerning subjects like the treatment of slaves, murder and injury, theft of animals, matters demanding compensation, duties towards enemies, the sabbath and great feasts.
Once Moses has enumerated those laws and statutes, he conducts a covenant ratification ceremony which signifies the sealing of the covenant in blood. We know from the Book of Leviticus that the Israelite people considered blood to be the life force. Their limited knowledge of biological science led them to believe that it was blood that was keeping them and all animal life alive. Consequently, since God was the creator of life, blood was reserved for God. The ritual of covenant ratification includes the sprinkling of blood on the altar at the foot of the mountain and on the people. In this way, they ritually signaled their union with God. Moses acts as mediator between the people and God, a priestly role that will be bestowed upon his tribe, the tribe of Levi.
This ritual is a foretaste of our own covenant ratification which we celebrate each and every day as we remember the fact that Jesus shed his blood to ratify the new covenant into which God and we enter through Baptism. The water of Baptism and the blood of the Eucharist remind us that both water and blood flowed from the wound that was caused by the soldier’s lance as Jesus hung lifeless on the cross.
Like the Israelites we often fail in our part of the covenant relationship. This is why we begin each Mass with another ritual of confessing our sins. Through the reception of the sacraments, all of which find their strength in the Eucharist, we are forgiven over and over again. God is faithful to the covenant and is patient with our failure.
Coming to the altar is an act of faith. It is also an act of contrition. Here we experience the mercy and the care that God extends to us. Nothing, St. Paul, can keep us from being one with God if we stay close to the covenant ritual which we call the Eucharist.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator