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Institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel of Saint Mark

Updated: Dec 12, 2023


Introduction


The topic which I have chosen is the Institution of the Lord’s Supper found in the Gospel of Saint Mark (Mk 14:22-28.) I chose this subject because I am interested in studying the Holy Communion or the Eucharist. As Mark’s account is most likely the first version of the Lord’s Supper, I believe that it is an excellent opportunity to study the passage as an exegesis assignment for the Doctor of Ministry Biblical Studies course.


The paper is divided into six parts. The first part, On the Eve of the New Covenant, is a brief summary of the passages. Within it, I will give a quick overview of the events that take place in the passages. The second part, Amid the Anxiety and Fear, will study the immediate context of the passages before and after the Lord’s Supper, preparing for the Passover meal (Mk 14:12-21), at the Mount of Olives and Saint Peter’s denial (Mk 14: 26-31).


The third part of this paper, Live according to the New Covenant of Love, will deal with the meaning of this passages in light of the Gospel of Saint Mark. The fourth part will ask the fundamental questions as to why the Lord’s Supper was Instituted, who it was opened to and the dogma behind the Paschal meal. In the fifth part of the paper I will provide an overall interpretation of the passage. And in the sixth and final part of my paper, I will present some final thoughts on the significance of the Institution of the Last Supper within the context of Saint Mark’s Gospel.


On the Eve of the New Covenant


Saint Mark (Mk 14:22-25) present us with the final meal that Jesus had with His disciples. Happening at Passover, this was an opportunity for Jesus to make this moment even more profound than it was. While they ate, Jesus stood up and took the bread, no doubt unleavened, and blessed it. Breaking it, he gave them the torn pieces of bread, emblematic of purity then saying “Take; this is my body.” This Paschal Supper was the Institution of the Lord’s Supper.


Making it part of His new Institution, Jesus then took a cup, which was mingled with water and wine, gave thanks and shared it with his disciples. He then said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”


Jesus was very familiar with the ancient practice of using blood to seal a new covenant. He knew that it was his blood that would ratify the new covenant and He made the cup the symbol of that blood. The blood, which is poured out for many, is Christ who died for ‘all.’

Jesus then tells the disciples that He “will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” Figuratively speaking, Jesus is reminding His followers that this Communion is a last meal. The next Communion will be ‘new’ as all those that partake in it will be in the Kingdom or ‘Rule’ of God.


Amid the Anxiety and Fear


Within its immediate context, the Institution of the Lord’s Supper is placed very near the beginning of the Passion Narrative where we find Jesus spending the Passover with the Disciples (Mk 14:12-21). On the eve of Passover, 14 Nisan, all work ceased and people began to prepare for the Passover meal. By the next evening, 15 Nisan, the Passover meal was eaten. According to David Garland's commentary on Saint Mark, this was the ‘first day of unleavened bread.’ 1.


At this moment, Jesus gives the disciples directions in a secretive manner through coded signs. For example, they are to recognize a man, instead of a woman, carrying a water jar. Saint Mark emphasizes that the Passover is Jesus’ Passover (Mk 14:12). Jesus himself refers to the location as His guest room (Mk 14:14) and His authority as their teacher allows Him such an honour.


When the disciples finally made it to the Upper Room, it appeared the way Jesus had told them that it would (Mk 14:16) adding to the sense of mystery and foreboding. We now find everyone assembled. The mood is sombre. They are getting to ready to eat in an atmosphere of sorrow and worry. 2. This event occurs in a time and place that Jesus had predicted and His betrayal is imminent. This passage has a parallel in 1 Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:23-26) which indicates that Saint Mark was using a traditional account of the Lord’s Supper.


However, there is more of an emphasis on the ‘betrayal’, which is uniquely Markan, as is the language in Saint Mark 14:21 ("is betrayed" is paradidotai from paradidonai, the verb used in the Passion predictions in Mark 9:31 and Mark 10:33). This language was used by early Christians in describing the Passion of Jesus, but Mark develops it, especially in the predictions. 3.


The immediate passages following the Institution of the Last Supper take us into the story of Jesus predicting Saint Peter’s denial (Mk 14:26-31) as all depart for the Mount of Olives. The disciples are still unsure of themselves. Nervously, as Jesus continues to talk of His approaching death, their reaction is to simply re-affirm their fidelity (Mk 14:29-31). According to Garland, this shows that they are still unseeing and unready for the momentous events which were fast approaching. 4.


Jesus now predicts that Saint Peter will deny knowing Him three times before a cock crows twice. It is at this point that Saint Peter finally accepts that Jesus must suffer and that he, as well, must partake in this suffering by suffering himself. Saint Mark is willing to die for Jesus, though at this point in time he is still not fully aware of the significance of Jesus’ death. 5.


Within its immediate context, the Institution of the Lord’s Supper bridges the events before the acclamation of the new covenant and its actual launching; that being the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, amid the anxiety and fear, lay the foundational work of a new relationship between God and His people.


Live according to the New Covenant of Love


In the Gospel of Saint Mark, the narrative can be divided into three parts: the Galilean ministry, including the surrounding regions of Phoenicia, Decapolis, and Cæsarea Philippi (chapters 1-9); the journey to Jerusalem (chapter 10); and the events in Jerusalem (chapters 11-16). The passages of the Passion are part of the events in Jerusalem and very much follow the path of Jesus’ ministry.


In this Gospel two important themes are presented. There is the Messianic secret and the inability of the disciples to catch on to that secret. With the exception of the time when He confronted demons and the period around His death, Jesus, for the most part, is not recognized as the Son of God.


On occasion, the disciples have trouble understanding meaning behind the parables, but Jesus explains in secret (Mk 4:13-20 & Mk 4:33-34). They also fail to understand the implication of the miracles that he performs before them. The command to both the unclean spirits and the disciples to not to reveal his identity is stronger in Saint Mark than in the other Gospels.


Just before the Lord ’s Supper, in Mk 14:21, Saint Mark uses the “Son of Man” as a major title for Jesus (Mk 2:10, 2:28; 8:31; 9:9, 9:12, 9:31; 10:33, 10:45 & 14:41). This title is a very important within this Gospel as it touches upon Mark’s Christology. Jesus raises a question that demonstrates the association between "Son of Man" (cf. Dan 7:13–14) and the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (Isa. 52:13-53:12) —"How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?" (Mk 9:12b) The Lord’s Supper is tied into the sufferings mentioned in the Gospel (Mk 9:12b.), “blood poured out for many” implies suffering. Mark links Daniel and Isaiah to Christ.


The Institution of the Lord’s Supper in many ways is part of an attempt to answer the question "Are You the Christ?" Of course, Jesus gives everyone a direct answer, "I am" (Mk 14:62 and cf. Mk 15:2.). The only one explicit mention of the meaning of Jesus' death occurs in passage 10:45 where Jesus says that the "Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (lutron: the "offering for sin" as in Isaiah 53:10) for many (anti pollōn: the Servant "bearing the sin of many" as in Isaiah 52:12)." The Greek word ‘anti’ means "in the place of", which indicates a substitution for death.


Saint Mark also speaks of Jesus' death metaphorically as the departing bridegroom (Mk 2:20, and the rejected heir (Mk 12:6-8). Jesus is also seen as fulfilling of Old Testament prophecy (Mk 9:12, 12:10-11, 14:21 & 14:27). There are more veiled anticipations of His death (Mk 10:38-39) where death is spoken of as a baptism to be received and where the symbolic act of the shared cup at the Lord’s Supper is described as "my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many." 6.


Within these passages there is also the hint of the New Covenant. Again, we find the same language in the Lord’s Supper and the Paschal meal finds Jesus serving the others at the table. Jesus says’ “This is my blood of the covenant.” The making of this new covenant is not a single ritual event. It involves the covenant meal, the sacrifice of the victim on the cross, and the celebration of Christ’s new life in the resurrection. According to Daryl Olszewski, The Lord’s Supper, then, should be seen in terms of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. 7. All of these events are celebrated in Holy Communion.


In the Sacrificial meal, we make our New Covenant with God through Jesus Christ. We accept the life-style that Christ has shown us. Thus, when we leave the celebration, our lives should be different – we should be ready to live according to the new covenant of love. 8.

Perpetuating The Sacrifice of the Cross Throughout the Ages


In the document Sacrosanctum Concillium; section N47 in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, it states: “The Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper by Christ Himself " (cf. Mt 26:26-28;Mk 14: 22-24; Lk 22: 17-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25) “ in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection; a bond of charity, a Pasqual banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” 9.


According to Gustav Martelet, in Saint Paul, we are told, the mention of the cup is a sign of the idea of a pre-paschal community, a living community eschatologically open to sinners; whereas in Saint Mark the explicit mention of blood, side by side with that of body, indicates a sacramental force, which detracts from Saint Paul's attachment to the table or the meal. 10.


Here, moreover, the true problem is not in the first place one of exegesis. It is one of dogma, and centres on the way in which we are to understand the relation between the Eucharist and the Body of Christ. Accordingly, Martelet believes that just as anthropology has illuminated the Resurrection for us, so, we believe, it may do the same for the Eucharist by enabling us to connect two mysteries which are too often kept separate. 11. Marlette and many other scholars believe, in light of the Resurrection, we should be able to reach a convincing, while at the same transcending human logic, understanding of the Eucharist itself. 12.


An Overall Interpretation of the Passages


What we find in the passages of the Lord’s Supper is very reminiscent of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes, 13. but according to D.E. Nineham, it is more intimate, in which we find Jesus taking, blessing and breaking the bread. It is primarily an illustrative statement interpreted by Jesus in His words: “take, this is my body.” 14.

The broken bread is the broken body of Jesus given to his disciples. The primary point is not simply Jesus’ coming death, but that this death is interpreted for others. 15. The bread is identified previously as the ‘Body of Christ.’ A solemn blessing or thanking of God was said over the bread. 16. and points to the broken bread as a means to recalling the loaves shared on the mountains, and the body to be shattered on the hill. In essence, Jesus is the body language of servant-hood. 17.


The Greek word eucharistein seems to be used simply as an alternative translation of the same Aramaic word translated 'bless' in v. 22. Jesus actions are completely in accordance with the Jewish custom of his day. According to D.E. Nineham, it is possible that in the Gentile circles in which Saint Mark moved, the blessing had come to be understood as a direct consecration of the bread. 18.


At the end of the meal it was also customary to say a long grace over a cup. The gift of the cup, identified as the ‘blood of the covenant’ was open to all people. 19. The blood of the covenant is an Old Testament image for ratification, (EX 24:6-8; Jeremiah 31:31; Zech. 9:11; CH. Hebrews 9:11-10:18.) and is mentioned earlier as a pouring out for many in Saint Mark's Gospel (Mk 10:45). If this was a Passover meal, there may well have been a third cup, known as the so-called 'cup of blessing.' 20. This cup recalls the suffering promised the disciples (Mk 10:39), which Jesus himself must now face (cf. Mk 14:36). 21.


For Jesus, this is His spilt blood, poured out for humanity. It accentuates the broken body and the sacrifice made for the all people. He speaks of His blood as being the mediating reality in a new relationship between God and humankind. 22. It is in the Lord’s Supper that Jesus qualifies the disciples' to receive His testament, not by feeding their souls, but by lifting them out of the secular sphere by the atoning power of His death, and Consecrating them for the kingdom of God. 23. Simply put, Jesus institutes the supper and establishes the new covenant.


Though it is reminiscent of Moses’ ratifying the covenant between YHWH and the people of Israel, taking the blood of the sacrificed oxen and sprinkling half of it on the altar and the other half on the people with the words, “ Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:8) These words imply reflection on the blood of the covenant at Mount Sinai, which, according to ancient Jewish interpretations, had atoning power. Thus, by the blood of the sacrificed lamb, the first born of the Israelites were spared, and it was this event that ultimately resulted in the release of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. 24.


For the Christian, Jesus is the Lamb of God and it is through His blood that we are saved. In His blood each of us is freed from the bondage of sin and allowed to share our new life with God. 25. This Paschal meal is proving to be a new act of redemption, establishing a covenant between God and his people, superseding the old covenant between God and Israel. 26. This is the new Passover that is celebrated in Holy Communion and it is done as a perpetual memorial of the Lord’s Supper.


The passage ends with an ‘amen’. This give the listener a sense of confidence that the meal, though presented to them in rather a gory manner is actually not an observance of an end, but the beginning of something very new. In contrast to the Lukan (Luke 22:14-20) and the Pauline (1 Cor. 11:23-26) tradition, there is no command to go on doing these things in memory of Jesus (cf. Luke22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24-25).


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus’ breaking bread and sharing wine is a sign of His gift of self unto death for others. It is the establishment of a covenant of freedom and oneness with God: “and they all drank of it.” 27. The Catechism clearly states that the Lord’s Supper when instituted declared the fulfilment of the wedding feast in the Father’s Kingdom, where the Faithful will drink the new wine that has become the blood of Christ. At the Lord’s Supper, Jesus directed His disciple’s attention toward the fulfillment of the Passover in the Kingdom of God: “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” 28.


At the Lord's Supper (Mk 14:12-25), the mystery of the kingdom is revealed in ritual. The Passover meal is transformed by His impending death "for many" (see Mk 10:45). But the Supper also points to a future beyond his betrayal and death: "I will drink it new in the kingdom of God"(Mk 14:25). 29. The new age (that day....in the Kingdom of God) was sometimes imagined as a magnificent banquet. 30. Thankfully, it is through that divine meal, the Lord’s Supper, that we find Jesus continuously inviting each and everyone of us to partake in that Heavenly Banquet.

The "Institution" in the Gospel of Saint Mark Understood Today.


The Sacrifice at Calvary is a one-time event with complete Redemptive power at the same time. The Risen Lord personally continues this Sacrament in our celebration of His Holy Institution. Jesus Christ is the Sacrifice, and where He is, His self-offering is made present. 31.


According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church , the Institution perpetually memorialized is known as the Eucharist. 32. The Greek words eucharstein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s Works: Creation, Redemption and Sanctification. This Meal remains today the source and summit of the Christian life. It is an act of thanksgiving to God; it is a re-enactment of the last supper, and a memorial of the Lord’s passion and resurrection. 33.


We learn from Eucharisticum Mysterium, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery that the Lord’s Supper is the action both of Christ and His Church. Christ keeps alive, in a bloodless way, his sacrifice on the cross, offering himself to the Father for the world’s salvation. 34. Because of the importance and holiness invested in it by Christ Himself, Holy Communion is the chief act of worship in the Church. 35.


The Eucharistic is a Meal, a New Passover Meal. In the Passover celebration there is the re-counting of the story of Salvation. God is praised and thanked, and toasts are drunk in memory of those events. It is a festive occasion. 36. Olszewski points out that each Eucharistic event is an extension of that Sacrifice so that each person, in every age and place, can fully and actively participate in that Sacrifice in which Christ gave up His life for our sins. 37.


When we celebrate Eucharist, the covenant is re-established in us. Our Lord’s Supper should be something like the one that the Apostles celebrated with Jesus. It should a time of songs, prayers and praise. It should be filled with the proclamation of the ways God loves us, and we should attentively listen to those words and all should be gathered into the Body of Christ by receiving that Body since Jesus told us that we should take and eat. 38.


Saint Augustine tells us, “just as you see that the bread was made in one mass, so may you also be one Body by loving one another, by having one faith, one hope, and an undivided charity.” This is the great responsibility of us who share in the Body and Blood of Christ. Our lives are to affirm that the Body of Christ is one in faith, hope, and love, even though it has many members. 39.


The Passover was not intended to be a gratifying memento of God’s past deliverance of Israel. The celebration was meant to keep each generation firmly in the paschal event and makes it a present reality. The Lord’s Supper works for the good. It reminds us of who we are, what our story is, what our values are, and who claims us as his own. 40.


In the Lord’s Supper, the gospel confronts all five of our physical senses. We experience Christ’s Passion and what it meant for Him to die for us. It also binds the past, present and future together. 41. The Presence of Christ’s Saving Power in the Eucharist manifests itself when we recognize our common union with one another. 42. This is as significant today as it was two thousand year ago.

End



Citations

  1. David Garland, Mark: The NIV Application Commentary, p. 524

  2. ibid., p. 525

  3. Dulling and Perrin, eds., The New Testament, p. 313

  4. Garland, p. 531

  5. ibid., p. 532

  6. Kee, Young & Frolehlich, contrib., Understanding the New Testament, p. 261

  7. Daryl Olszewski, Everyday Theology for Catholic Adults, p.61

  8. ibid., p.63

  9. Rev. P. Stravinskas., ed., Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 369

  10. Gustave Martelet, The Risen Christ, p. 97

  11. ibid., p.97

  12. ibid., p.98

  13. Wayne A. Meeks, ed., Harper Collins Study Bible,p. 1948

  14. D.E. Nineham, ed., Saint Mark: The Pelican Gospel Commentaries, p. 384

  15. Francis Moloney, ed., The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, p. 285

  16. Nineham, p. 384

  17. Luke T. Johnson, ed., The Writings Of The New Testament: An Interpretation, p. 167

  18. Nineham, p. 386

  19. ibid., p. 386

  20. ibid., P. 384

  21. Johnson, p. 167

  22. Metzger and Murphy, eds., The New Oxford Annotated Bible,p. 70 NT

  23. Nineham, p.385

  24. ibid., p. 385

  25. Olszewski, p. 60

  26. Moloney, p. 285

  27. Liberia Editrice Vaticana, eds., Catechism of the Catholic Church, ccc p. 287

  28. ibid., ccc p. 302

  29. Johnson p. 167

  30. Harper Collins, p. 1948

  31. Hill and Madges, contrib., The Catechism: Highlights and Commentary, p. 65

  32. Liberia Editrice Vaticana, ccc p. 287

  33. Hill and Madges, p. 61

  34. Rev. P. Stravinskas, p. 369

  35. ibid., p. 369

  36. Olszewski, p. 63

  37. ibid., p. 61

  38. ibid., p. 63

  39. Michael Kwatera, The Ministry of Communion., p. 12

  40. Garland, p. 534

  41. ibid., p. 534

  42. ibid., p. 537

Bibliography

  1. Cooke, Bernard Sacraments & Sacramentality. 8th printing, Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty-Third Publications, 1992.

  2. Garland, David Mark: The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996.

  3. Johnson, Luke T. The Writings Of The New Testament: An Interpretation. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1986.

  4. Kwatera, Michael The Ministry of Communion. Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1983.

  5. Moloney, Francis The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary. Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2006.

  6. Martelet, Gustave The Risen Christ And The Eucharistic World. London, William Collins Sons Co. Ltd., 1976.

  7. Nineham, D.E. Saint Mark: The Pelican Gospel Commentaries. Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd, 1963.

  8. Olszewski, Daryl Everyday Theology for Catholic Adults. Milwaukee, Hi-Time Publishing Corp, 1989.

  9. Power, David Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives. Volume II. F.S. Fiorenza & J.P. Galvin, Editors. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

Other Resources

  1. The New Testament. Third edition, Dennis C. Dulling and Norman Perrin, contributors, Fort Worth, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994.

  2. Understanding The New Testament. Second Edition, Howard Clark Kee, Franklin W. Young and Karlfried Froehlich, Contributors, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1965.

  3. The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version). Wayne A. Meeks, Editor, San Francisco, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

  4. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version). Bruce Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, Editors, New York, Oxford University Press Inc., 1991.

  5. Catholic Encyclopaedia. Rev. P. Stravinskas., Editor, Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1991.

  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church (ccc) . Liberia Editrice Vaticana, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ottawa, 1992.

  7. The Catechism: Highlights & Commentary. Brennan Hill & William Madges, Contributors, Mystic, Twenty-Third Publication. 1994.

  8. Dictionary of the Bible. James Hastings, Editor, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1924.

  9. The NRSV Concordance: Unabridged. John R. Kohlenberger III, Editor, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1991.


Original exegesis paper submitted as a course requirement for D.Min. 8576 - Biblical Studies and the Practice of Ministry - to Dr. Craig Evans - Acadia Divinity College - Published on July 24th, 2007 (Revised on August 7th, 2023)

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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