TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: The Eucharist’s new covenant of non-violence

I imagine that many of you have a sense that when we gather for Mass we can become overwhelmed by the number of words that are spoken and sung in our liturgy. Most of it can wash over us as our minds wander and our bodies grow restless. And so there are times when I find myself hearing words for the first time, possibly because I have been mentally constructing this message to you over many days.

So this was the case on Sunday evening, when the prayers of the Penitential Act resonated with me and the place in which we, as God’s people, are struggling with our world of power and violence. I am thinking especially of Syria and the devastation of their sacred land and its people, along with the threats of further violence from external forces.

Here are the words which Fr Andrew Doohan used:

Lord Jesus, you came to gather the nations into the peace of God’s Kingdom:

Lord, have mercy.

You come in word and in sacrament to strengthen us and make us holy:

Christ, have mercy.

You will come again in glory with salvation for your people:

Lord, have mercy.

I was also struck by the chorus of one of the hymns we sang:

We come to share our story.
We come to break the bread.
We come to know our rising from the dead.

(Song of the Body of Christ by David Haas)

In the lead up to Easter I read John Dear’s Walking the Way – Following Jesus on the Lenten Journey of Gospel Non-violence to the Cross and Resurrection. One of the amazing chapters was titled, “The Eucharist’s New Covenant of Non-violence.”

I feel compelled to share some of this with you for your consideration and contemplation. As I listened to the Gospel from Luke (24:35–48), I was struck by its call for us to gather at the table with each other and share the food of life, while wishing each other the gift of Jesus – Peace be with you. Once again, we hear Jesus speaking these words before showing them the wounds in his hands and feet and inviting them to touch him.

John Dear writes:

When he offers the bread as his body and the cup as his blood, Jesus becomes the Passover meal. As many others have written, he fulfils humanity’s exodus out of slavery, symbolically demonstrates what will happen the next day on Calvary, memorializes his own life and witness, and invites us to participate in the paschal mystery by partaking of his very body and blood.

Of course, any mention of a covenant is hugely important. The ancient Hebrew covenant outlines God’s promise to protect humanity if humanity promises to be God’s people. So here, to my way of thinking, Jesus invents “a new covenant of non-violence”. He will not hurt others or kill others for us, but he is willing to suffer and die for everyone and wants us to do likewise. He wants us all to join his underground movement of transforming non-violence, his campaign of resistance to injustice, war, and empire. He calls us to give our bodies, our blood, our hearts, our very lives for one another, for suffering humanity, for the reign of God.

When Jesus invites us into his new covenant of non-violence at the Last Supper, he throws away the old covenant of violence. With this historic, salvific breakthrough, he frees us from the old rules, laws, and ways of violence, war, and empire. He dismisses the ancient fundamentalism that once sanctified violence. Indeed, he rejects any image of divine violence. From now on, in his new covenant of non-violence, we live by a new set of boundaries, based on peace, love, forgiveness, and compassion, and so we dwell in Christ’s peace. We behave within the boundaries of non-violence and so live in God’s reign of non-violence here and now and for all eternity. (pages 57-58)

John Dear is reminding us that peace and non-violence lie at the centre of our faith, at the heart of our weekly worship. In turn, each week, we are invited to do the same, “Do this in memory of me.” Give your lives non-violently for others, as I have done for you. This is the best way to remember me.

Theoretically, at every Eucharist, we join his campaign of non-violence and enter his paschal mystery for strength to pursue his vision of a world where no more bodies will be broken and no more blood will be shed. And we pledge to live our lives non-violently for humanity until that vision comes true. (page 59)

The Body and Blood of Christ disarm us, heal us, and give us a peace not of this world. Bound by this new covenant of non-violence, we are sent forth as peacemakers into the world of permanent war to give our lives in the struggle for justice in his memory. As keepers of the covenant of non-violence, we espouse a consistent ethic of life, and we resist war, executions, nuclear weapons, corporate greed, environmental destruction, and violence in all its forms. We no longer partake of the anti-Eucharist of war and death. We celebrate the Eucharist of peace and life. (page 60)

Pope St John Paul II wrote the following words in Catechesi Tradendae:

It is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings. (n23)

In Luke’s Gospel (24:35-48), Jesus is present to his disciples; he gives himself to them to be seen and held; he eats with them; teaches them about the scriptures and he commissions them to go out.

The following words form part of the homily notes by Richard Leonard SJ for this weekend:

And just like the first Easter Sunday we believe that Christ continues to invite us here; to teach us about how to understand the scriptures and live them out in our daily lives; is present to us, to have and to hold, in his Word, this community, the presider and in a special way in the Eucharistic meal; and that he sends us out to proclaim his saving love with heroic joy.

To enable us to do all this we receive the same gift Jesus gave the first disciples as well, the gift of peace.

I find all these words to be incredibly powerful and wonder what we need to do, so that others will feel the invitation to join us and live this transformational vision of living a life of peace. If people only realised the power of the gift, they would break open the doors of every church and beg for Eucharist.

Let’s continue to be courageous enough to live out the final verses of Luke’s Gospel:

And now I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.

I hope we are able to continue to witness the joy of being a Eucharistic people.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.