[Excerpted from the May/June 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Barbara Shanahan is an alumna of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois. She has led the Buffalo, New York, Catholic Bible Studies Program since 1992.]
The making of covenants was a way of ordering life in ancient times. These mutually-binding agreements were made between nations, among neighbors, and between rulers and subjects. They were sacred agreements marked by a ceremony or ritual of ratification to seal the covenant. These might include a shared meal or erecting a memorial marker or planting a tree. We find many examples of these in the Bible.
The reading from Exodus relates such a covenant ratification. The preceding chapters (19-23) narrate the terms of the covenant made between God and Israel. The passage set before us today describes the unique symbolic ritual that ratifies the covenant. If you read all of Exodus 24:1-11, you will find two separate rituals described: verses 3-8 speak of a blood ritual and verses 1-2 and 9-11 of a meal ritual. Two different writers are responsible for the fusion of the accounts. This seeming confusion only helps us discover a deeper meaning.
The mention of blood occurs frequently in any discussion of cultic life in ancient Israel. Blood was very simply an essential element of life that took on symbolic importance. Living beings were dead when blood ceased to flow. There was a connection between life and blood, so it was considered sacred.