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History of the eucharistic celebration I: The roots

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Since the dawn of time, centuries before Abraham and Moses, nomadic tribes dedicated to shepherding crossed ancient Mesopotamia in a long migration from the Euphrates Valley, the plains of the Jordan and the vast fertility of the Nile. They were peoples without land, forced to agree to alliances with the monarchs in power who dominated the lands where their sheep and goats were to graze.

Even though they were shepherds, those tribes of the Semitic race were excellent warriors, providing good, timely help to the small kingdoms and satrapies that preferred to count on their protection rather than suffer their belligerence. Trades and aid facilitated coexistence with agricultural peoples, those tied and anchored to their fields.

For these tribes, contact with divinity came through God the Father of the tribe; the God of the father, and then, the God of our parents. A God who does not have a specific sanctuary, because his presence lies within the tribe, an itinerant society that will gradually make great and transcendental discoveries about the nature and behavior of the God who walks with them.

God is the creator of everything, the great author of nature and of all life on the face of the Earth, who speaks through history and creation. Therefore, collecting the events that occurred, keeping them in the memory of the elders, and reading them again in search of their meaning, will allow them to understand the logic of God's actions. The great setting in which they are born, grow and die will lead them to understand that everything they perceive is part of a divine language, a certain communication that must be read constantly.

They journey in a geographical area where they can clearly notice the changing seasons. They understand that spring is a sign that marks the beginning of life; each year, during that season, they remember the anniversary of creation, where life exults, the desert turns green, the sheep multiply. It is the right time to make an annual alliance with the God of their fathers whose presence always accompanies them.

Gathered by the fire under the first full moon of spring, the elders will tell the young people about the theological history of their people, the wonders that God has done for the tribe, whose chief, as a sign of the covenant with the Lord, will sacrifice a tender young animal that holy night. Everyone should eat it as an expression of communion and unity with the one in whose name the lamb is sacrificed.

Given that blood is necessary for life and its immediate source, a sacred gift from God now blessed by sacrifice, it cannot be eaten but it will serve as an effective exorcism to ward off the presence of unclean spirits. That is the reason why they will paint with blood the posts supporting the tents where they live. That night, after destroying all remains of the banquet to avoid any possible desecration, they will walk under the light of the full moon to the new camp that the scouts have already located, near water and good pastures.

This old rite of nomadic shepherds will accompany all the activities and events of the Semitic tribes throughout the centuries. We have a reference in the book of Exodus, when Moses asks Pharaoh to let his people go to the desert “three days away” to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. They could not perform it publicly, among other things because the lamb was one of the sacred animals of the Egyptian pantheon, and such a massive sacrifice would have attracted the wrath of the priests and the authorities. In addition, tradition called for the desert to be the setting for this very ancient rite.

The Easter story relives the founding moment of Israel, when the sacrifice of the lamb will become the Passover Meal, the tremendous sign of the Lord's mercy that has blessed its future, represented by their firstborn. That night they will journey under the light of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in search of freedom, having broken the chains of slavery and oppression. It is a night associated with a rite whose repetition, year after year, will memorialize the great alliance, the beginning of a new story. It is the meal that will give cohesion and meaning to a budding nation that one day, after many adventures, will finally reach the promised land.

Comments from readers

Andrew Meszaros - 10/01/2019 05:39 PM
I am not sure where this narrative is going, but it is an article of Faith that: “according to the passages of Holy Scripture and according to the explanations of the ancient Fathers, with God's help we must believe and preach the following: The free will of man was made so weak and unsteady through the sin of the first man that, after the Fall, no one could love God as was required, or believe in God, or perform good works for God unless the grace of divine mercy anticipated him. Therefore, we believe that the renowned faith which was given to the just Abel, to Noe, to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob, and to that vast number of the saints of old, was given through the grace of God and not through natural goodness.” (2nd Council of Orange, no. 22). All of Sacred Scripture, from the beginning to the end, describes God’s redemptive work and none of it has to do with any kind of a natural progression or some harmonious discovery by nomadic tribes. In fact, Sacred Scripture is replete with examples where man tries to frustrate and contradict God’s work. I think of the 10 Plagues of Egypt as an example.
Pat Solenski - 10/01/2019 12:06 PM
Thank you. Our histories, our stories are precious and need to be told and retold so that the young and old among us are renewed and strengthen in God's loving Presence in our midst. This narrative was presented in a beautiful and gentle way and yet so mighty powerful in message and meaning.

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