“This is my covenant-blood,” he said, “which is poured out on behalf of many.
is my thin thin blood
too little for my news
spilled too soon
I raise a toast
to those not here
who will yet taste
joy released anyway
I tip this glass
from which we all
have sipped a bit
to nourish unsown seeds
This is a controversial verse. No matter how you approach it, the relationship between wine and blood is tricky to hold together beyond a too-simple analogy. A lot of blood atonement theory takes root here, but it is not the only way to extend the comparison.
Since this meal was and is so central, we shouldn’t be surprised that its meaning, and the way it is enacted, has often been the subject of bitter disputes and divisions within the church. Sorrow hung over the Last Supper itself, and sorrow hangs over every re-enactment of it within a divided church.
The “blood of the covenant” goes back to the Israelite experience related in Exodus 24. This is a unilateral agreement initiated by and dependent only upon G*D, not G*D’s people. We see some of this in the way Mark chooses to use διαθήκη (diathēkē, last will and testament) rather than the expected Greek word then used as “covenant” or agreement—συνθήκη (sunthēkē, bilateral agreement). This is a choice to continue to a hierarchical process that runs differently than the partnership emphasis I have followed. For Mark this is a theological/systems/process choice, not simply a linguistic or translational matter between Hebrew and Greek.
When Jerome translated the Greek manuscripts he had available to him into Latin, he used the Latin word we know as Testament. This is held to in the King James Version and others up to the late 1880s when “covenant” became the preferred English translation.
This opens for us the possibility of looking further and making a different choice. With the unilateral disposition of goods, there is also, finally, an entering into the trust needed for a partnership. It says, “I’ve brought things this far along the way and now you will carry them on.” Surely, wills can try to constrain the use of what is passed on, but this has the sense that the sorrow, each coming suffering and death, must be met contextually, not proscriptively. At issue is whether Jesus’ “covenant” is a constraint or setting loose of a partner.