This week we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the gospel reading, Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. He took some bread, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said, “Take it; this is my body.” (Notice He did not say, “This symbolizes my body,” or “This represents my body.” He said, “This IS my body.”)
Then he took a cup filled with wine, gave it to them and said, “This is my blood…which will be shed for many.”
Earlier in His ministry, as recorded in John chapter 6, Jesus laid the groundwork for the sacrament He instituted at the Last Supper. While teaching a large crowd He said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
Most of the Protestant world, and far too many Catholics, think Jesus was just speaking figuratively in John 6 and at the Last Supper. “It’s bread, it’s wine,” they might say, “and it still looks and tastes like bread and wine, so how can it actually be Jesus’ flesh and blood?”
Well, that’s a reasonable question. The simple answer is: “Cuz Jesus said so.” But let’s also take a look at what St. Paul wrote. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul said this about celebrating the Lord’s Supper: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”
Now, how can someone sin against the Lord’s body and blood if it’s just plain old bread and wine? If it’s just a symbol or metaphor, what’s the big deal?
St. Paul then adds, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” If it’s just symbolic, what is Paul talking about when he says “recognizing the body of the Lord”?
Paul’s words are quite strange — IF it’s just a figurative, symbolic ritual. His words, however, make perfectly good sense if Jesus’ body and blood truly become present.
Some folks claim that the Catholic Church invented the concept of the Real Presence in the 13th century, when the word “Transubstantiation” was first used. But if that’s the case, how do we explain the following statements by early Christian leaders?
- “[Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist…because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ.” – St. Ignatius of Antioch, 110 A.D.
- “We call this food Eucharist…not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these.…the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him…is both the Flesh and the Blood of that incarnated Jesus.” – St. Justin Martyr, 150 A.D.
- “[Jesus] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood…and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as His own Body.” – St. Irenaeus, 195 A.D.
Even though the bread and wine still look and taste like bread and wine, we must take it as an article of faith that the body and blood of Jesus truly becomes present in the Eucharist. Why? Well, cuz Jesus said so.
I know that sounds like something you’d shout in frustration to a relentlessly inquisitive 5-year-old, but in this case, it really is the best answer. Jesus said it, and if we truly believe Jesus is divine, then obviously He is capable of performing whatever miracle He wants.
Instead of being so skeptical, we should instead embrace the Eucharist with love and joy. For that is exactly what Jesus’ body and blood are: the love and joy of God, made present in a very special way right in our midst.
On this special feast day, let’s be filled with faith and trust the words of our Savior: the Eucharist truly is the body and blood of Christ. Thank God for that!