Covenant Renewal (Mark 14:22-23)
Despite centuries of reading this story as foundational for the church’s doctrine of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, Mark’s version stays focused on Jesus and discipleship rather than the church. In the middle of the Supper Jesus enacts what is best described as an act of Covenant Renewal. Jesus breaks and shares bread with his disciples. Do they understand about the loaves now? And do they catch the allusions in sharing the cup of wine? We’re not told. But what we can safely assume is that
“By eating the bread, the disciples are to know that they somehow become participants in Jesus’ own destiny, but this saying does not specify how this is to be. Receiving and eating bread that Jesus has somehow identified with his very self may be an enactment of what he had said in 8:34–38” (Boring, Mark:10671-10673).
The bread reminds us of Jesus who used the leftovers of the two feeding stories to dramatize himself as the provider of covenant abundance. The cup and the wine allude to the covenant celebration of Ex.24. The phrase “for many” echoes the Greek translation of the Old Testament of Isa.53:11-12 where the Servant “pours out his life for many.”
Frederick Buechner says, “Wine is booze,” says Frederick Buechner, “which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice.…It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 96). It can also symbolize suffering and punishment (Isa. 51:17; Lam. 4:21; Ezek. 23:31–35). The drama and gravitas of the scene could scarcely be greater. Whatever this meal signifies, it is of utmost importance.
It is of utmost importance “for many.” And as Placher notes this “many” means, “more than few; maybe not all, but maybe even all” (Placher, Mark:4104). Jesus’ disciples inherit the Abrahamic mandate of being a people through whom God will bless the world.
Betrayal (Mark 14:26-31)
That Jesus splashes cold water all over those who just shared this covenant renewal meal and a hymn by declaring “You will all become deserters” and then cites Zech.13:7 as proof.
Desertion, however, will not be the end of the story – Jesus’ or theirs. He brings back up again an element of his passion predictions the disciples didn’t understand. “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Whatever they understood this to mean, it is evident that Jesus believed his story would continue beyond death. And implicitly theirs too. When the angel at the tomb conveys this same message to the women, bidding the disciples to go and find Jesus in Galilee, this is confirmed. Beyond desertion, ministry awaits this group, as it does all of us who in someway betray Jesus yet still find him alive and new life in him in mission.
Nevertheless, the horror of desertion waits them first. Peter walks right into it, though, with his bravado of remaining faithful to Jesus to death though all others fall away (v.29).