None of the disciples refused the cup or the bread. But they could have. “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” He says, “This is my body which is given for you.” He is interpreting his death. He is saying his death is “for you”; that, in dying, he gives his body “for you.”
He had spoken earlier of his death, and at that time they vehemently rejected the idea. Peter, who voices the thoughts of many, had rebuked Jesus for saying he would be killed. To which Jesus replied: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me.”
That was some time in the past; now, they do not object. The bread, which he is saying is his body, he is saying also is for them. Similarly with the wine: it’s his blood, it’s blood shed for them, for the many. Drink it, he says. He tells them that he will eat no more bread and drink no more wine until he comes in his kingdom.
No one objects. No one speaks. Silently, the bread is passed around; silently, the chalice of wine. By not speaking, by partaking, they accept his death and they accept the meaning of his death, even as they themselves take on the promise to “do this” until he comes again.
There is a very important dialogue between the priest and the people at every Eucharist. What happens in this dialogue is that the celebrant asks the congregation for permission to continue with the Eucharist. The first request is for the people to lift up their hearts. The people respond that they are doing so: “We lift them up unto the Lord.” The priest then says “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.” This is a question to the congregation: Shall we continue? Shall we — today, in this time and in this place — give thanks to God? When the people say, “It is meet and right so to do,” they are giving the priest permission to continue. Yes! It is meet, it is proper, it is fitting, it is right for the Mass to go forward.
The people could say no; they could refuse; and if they did, there would be no Eucharist.
The disciples, the friends of Jesus, had the power to reject the meaning of his death. And that’s why Jesus was offering them gifts while he was still alive. The gifts are interpretations of his death. He is, in effect, asking their permission for his death to be something he does for them — “for you.”
He will die tomorrow. He wants to ask your permission. May he die for you?
Victor Lee Austin is theologian-in-residence for the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas and Church of the Incarnation, Dallas.