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Is the Eucharist Really the Body of Christ?

Scripture is so rich and has much to say about the Eucharist. Following is nothing that you may not have already discovered for yourself, but perhaps it might shed some new light and help fill in some of the "puzzle pieces". Consider the words of Jesus in John 6:25-69:

25 And when they found Him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" 26 Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal." 28 So they said to Him, "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" 29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent." 30 So they said to Him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’" 32 So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 So they said to Him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. 36 But I told you that although you have seen (me), you do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, 38 because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it (on) the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day." 41 The Jews murmured about Him because He said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," 42 and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can He say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?" 43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." 59 These things He said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" 61 Since Jesus knew that His disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65 And He said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." 66 As a result of this, many (of) His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. 67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" 68 Simon Peter answered Him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

These words of Christ are hard to believe (in fact, so hard to believe, that many of his disciples left him). Jesus says, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). The Jews disputed this. Jesus did not back down. Rather than clarifying what He meant (because it was clear), Jesus reiterated four times, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53), "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:54), "For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55), "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (John 6:56). Is it worth the risk to discount what Jesus himself said five times!? Isn’t it worth significant prayer and investigation?

It might be suggested that Jesus only figuratively meant what He said. But this can’t be. For the Jews, to say figuratively "to eat the flesh and drink the blood" meant to inflict serious injury upon someone, especially by slander or false accusation. Refer to Micah 3:1-4. To interpret the phrase figuratively would mean Jesus was promising everlasting life to those who slander and hate Him. In Mark, when Jesus says, "Take, this is my body" (Mark 14:22), the Hebrew verb "is" could mean either "is really" or "is figuratively". But John clears this up when he writes "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood…" (John 6:54) by using a verb for "to eat" that is rather crude but quite realistic – not symbolic – meaning "to chew, munch, or gnaw". Jesus literally meant what He said. And note when Jesus said, "This is my body…" (Luke 22:19). He did not say "here is my body" or "this is the symbol of my body", but "this is my body" – this bread is my body.

In order to explain the proliferation of denominations, some have suggested that rather than one visible Church, God teaches in many visible forms through an "invisible" Church. If God actually teaches through many forms, then for fifteen hundred years, He taught all Christians that the Eucharist was His actual body and blood and thereafter He taught a portion of the Christians that it was only a symbol.

Jesus goes on to say in John, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Jesus is not taking back what He just said – He is not a liar – but rather pointing out that they are judging on a natural level. Jesus has said, "You judge according to the flesh, I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone that judge, but I and He who sent me" (John 8:15-16). Natural human judgment, unaided by God’s grace, is unreliable. But God’s judgment is always true. Jesus is not speaking of dead flesh, but flesh with the spirit in it, the living body of Christ, the Eucharist. But only through the Spirit, and the drawing of the Father, can we come to understand this. And of course flesh is of avail. If it were not, then Jesus became man for no reason, died for no reason, and rose from the dead for no reason. His flesh profits us more than anyone else’s in the world. If it did not profit us anything, then "your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished" (1 Cor. 15:17-18).

Nevertheless, Christ’s teaching was too hard for many of his disciples – they rejected His literal statements. "After this many of the disciples drew back and no longer went with him" (John 6:66). Note that Jesus did not stop them. He didn’t say, "Come back, that’s not what I meant, I was only speaking symbolically". He meant what He said! Jesus didn’t even give a symbolic interpretation to His apostles, or indicate that they misunderstood him. Instead, He asked them, "Will you also go away?" (John 6:67). Even though they did not fully understand, Peter, speaking for the twelve, said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68). It was only later, after the Holy Spirit came upon them, and through faith, that they understood: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). "When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13).

The earliest Christians surely believed that the Eucharist was the body of Christ. There are no writings from the early centuries that indicate a symbolic interpretation of Jesus rather than a literal one. Even the Romans charged Christians as cannibals. Consider what Paul says. "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor 11:27-29). "To answer for the body and blood" of someone meant to be guilty of a crime as serious as murder. What Paul says only makes sense if the bread and wine became the real body and blood of Christ.

Jesus loves us so much, that He became flesh so that He could die for us. On the day before Jesus died, He instructed Peter and John, "Go and prepare our Passover supper for us" (Luke 22:8). Jesus said to them, "I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). And Jesus did suffer and die for us, He is our new Passover lamb, He is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7). But unlike the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, which had to be repeated annually, "Christ was offered up once to take away the sins of many" (Heb 9:28). His sacrifice occurred once for all and cannot be repeated. "We know that Christ, once raised from the dead, will never die again; death has no more power over him" (Rom 6:9). The Eucharist is not a re-killing or re-sacrifice to the Father, but a sharing in the one eternal sacrifice that occurred once for all time.

As you might remember, in the first Passover in Egypt, it wasn’t enough to just sacrifice the lamb; it had to be eaten. "That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" (Exodus 12:8). If they had not eaten the sacrifice, they would have found their first-born dead in the morning. Just as it was required to eat the Passover lamb to seal the covenant with God, Jesus commands that we eat His body and drink His blood to seal the new covenant: "Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said ‘Take, eat; this is my body’" (Matt 26:26). And just as ancient covenants had to be sealed with blood to signify a new kinship relationship, so did the new covenant. "And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’" (Matt 26:27-28). In John 6:60, many disciples could not bear to hear the idea of drinking His blood. Jesus said, "Does it shake your faith?" (John 6:61). Of course it did, for Jewish law said "You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off" (Lev 17:14). To partake of an animal’s blood was to share in its life. By drinking His blood, we are accepting in our own lives the new covenant. In the new covenant, Jesus "earnestly desired" (Luke 22:15) that we "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). Jesus desires us to share in His divine sonship in the most intimate and physical way – by eating His body and drinking His blood. By sharing in His body and blood, we truly become children of God. This is why early Christians called each other brethren, for they say themselves as children of God.

Not only are we to partake of His body, but we are to continue doing so. Jesus said, "This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). Paul said, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:23-26). It is important to note the Hebrew meaning of "remembrance". Remembrance of an event was not simply to remember a distant event, but to participate in the original event by re-presenting it. Jews saw time as vertical rather than horizontal. Remembrance of an event was not merely to recall what "happened", but to re-present what "happens". Remembrance of Passover was not merely a reminder of that distant event, but was also a present event that they themselves participated in, generation after generation. For Moses said "Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, that place of slavery…On this day you shall explain to your son, ‘This is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt’" (Exodus 13:3,8). What the Lord did for me, not them. When Jesus says to "do this in remembrance of me", it is not to just remember the Passover sacrifice of the Last Supper, but to participate in His own Passover sacrifice on Calvary. Paul says, "I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:15-16).

Paul also says, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread" (1 Cor 10:17). If "one bread" does not refer to the body of Christ then it would indeed need to be a very large piece of bread for all of us to partake. But it is not merely bread, but rather the glorified body of Christ, of which Jesus multiplies daily at the Eucharist. Christ is our High Priest, the "Lamb that had been slain" (Rev 5:6).

Recall what happened on the road to Emmaus after Christ’s resurrection: "When He was at table with them, He took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and He vanished out of their sight" (Luke 24:30-31). Jesus loves us so much, that He desires to share himself with us in the most intimate way. He invites us to receive His body, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me" (Rev 3:20). "Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Rev 19:9). "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15). Please don’t settle for a potluck when Jesus is inviting you to a banquet.

Given everything said above, you might still consider it too implausible that bread could become Jesus. Indeed, it is very implausible—especially if one takes for granted that God became man. It is important to remember that although the Jews expected a Messiah, they didn't expect Him to be God. A Jew would ask, "How could a man be God?" Jews wanted to kill Jesus for even implying such a thing (Matt 26:65). How could a man, who is finite, be God, who is infinite? Nevertheless, God became man. One could just as easily ask, "How could bread—a wafer no less—become God?" Bread is finite, yet God is infinite. But when comparing the finite to the infinite, both bread and man are just as insignificant and just as far from the infinite. Yet God became man. Is it any less plausible that He could not also come under the form of bread?

Jesus loves us so incredibly much, that He wants to be physically and intimately present to us every day. It should be no more difficult to believe that the Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, than it is to believe that God became man. They are both just as implausible. We should not minimize God’s infinite love for us just because we cannot understand it with our finite brains.



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Last Updated Tuesday May 05, 2009