I wonder how often we pay attention to the first reading. It is from the Old Testament, often filled with names that are hard to pronounce at best and impossible to remember – especially when it comes as a collection of names that are a chain of ancestors. One of the gospels for Christmas Eve (Mt 1:1-17) has a list of 42 generations, all of whose names are ancestors of Jesus. Could you name some of them other than King David and Mary’s husband Joseph? Jesus’ genealogy starts with Abraham – who appears in our first reading – and continues with Isaac, his son Jacob , and whose son Judah… ok, we know those names. And the genealogy then ventures into, what I suspect is largely unknown territory. We come across Hezron, Amminadab – and one of my personal favorites – Zerubbabel.
At this point you might be wondering why I mention it. Well, another equally odd name, but one of the key names of the Old Testament appears in the first reading: Melchizedek, king of Salem. The name literally translates as “king of righteousness.” Melchizedek appears pretty much out of nowhere in the storyline of Abraham. In the scene we heard proclaimed, Melchizedek hands to Abraham the gifts of bread and wine and Abraham gives Melchizedek 1/10th of everything he has. These are very covenantal actions.
In the second reading, St. Paul offers the people of Corinth the gifts of bread and wine in the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” Again covenantal actions.
In the gospel, the apostles have just returned from their first solo mission and are filled with the Spirit and energized over all the miracles and healings done in the name of the Lord. In the account of the miraculous multiplications of the bread and fish, Jesus – at first – asks the apostles to take care of the people: “Give them some food yourselves.” Despite their own experience of the power of God working through them on their solo missions, now they falter – expecting Jesus to take care of everything. And so, Jesus “looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.” And all were fed with 12 wicker baskets left over.
This is the only miracle that is told in each one of the four gospels. It prefigures the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday when Jesus: “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” This new covenant
And in this celebration today, some folks will bring up the gifts of bread and wine – in your name and on your behalf. In the celebration of this Mass, we will prayer the words that Jesus have us from the Holy Thursday evening, and return to you the gifts of bread and wine, now consecrated as the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharistic miracle who fruit is given from the King of All Righteousness to you.
From the days of Melchizedek and Abraham, through the years to the Last Supper, and up until now, the gifts of bread and wine have been handed on from the “king of righteousness.” In Abraham’s day it was the King of Salem. In our day, it is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – the King of all righteousness – the one in whose blood the New Covenant of the people of God with God is made. All handed on from hand to hand, across the ages, across the globe, across all the universe. A covenant in which God promises that He is our God and we are his people. A promised sealed in the blood of Christ.
Covenant is one of the key ideas that comes about in Sacred Scripture, the Bible. Some would say it is the unifying theme of all scripture: the making of covenant and the handing on of the blessings of God. And it is not a figurative, ceremonial handing on – it is a quite literal handing on. This handing on is the most sacred of traditions. Traditio in Latin literally means “handing on.”
Today’s reading are virtual outline of the traditio of our handing on of the pledge of God, the covenant of God with his people. And that brings us back to Melchizedek. As some folks have pointed out, the covenant of Noah was passed on to his son Shem – but there is no record of his handing the blessings on to his sons (who were a scurrilous lot). It has ever been the understanding of the rabbis that Melchizedek was Shem himself, who lived and waited until a truly righteous one appeared – one worthy of receiving the covenant blessings of God. It was to Abraham that the covenant was passed, to whom the blessings were to accrue for him and his descendants – descendants as plentiful as the stars in the heavens or the sand on the seashore. Passed on to the 42 generations of descendants who lived between Abraham and Jesus. The chain of the People of God to the Son of God in whom the new, everlasting covenant is made. It has been handed on since Holy Thursday by the Church – the sign and blessing of covenant.
Today, when you come to receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, you take your place in that chain of faith, hope, and covenant that stretches back to God in the beginning.
And the question then becomes to whom and how will you pass on this covenant blessing.
The disciples faltered a bit – and we might too – but in the end, these simple gifts of bread and wine, consecrated, are the food by which the world needs to be nourished. And as Jesus said – “Give them some food yourselves.”
You have received the blessings of the covenant – pay it forward – give them some food yourselves.