Summary: A meditation on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice as we prepare to share at the Lord’s Table.
“THIS IS MY BODY”
“As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’”
“The Body of Christ,” mumbles the priest as he places a wafer on the tongue of each worshipper. Those participating in that ritual are told that they are eating Christ’s body as they chew the host. After all, did not the Master say to His disciples when He instituted the Meal, “Take, eat, this is My body?” Such a thought is repugnant to individuals who have not had their thinking distorted through early and repeated twisting of the words of the Master. It points up a gulf in the approach to the Lord’s Table that exists in Christendom.
Catholics hold to a doctrine known as transubstantiation. According to Catholic doctrine, the bread becomes the body of Christ as the priest pronounces the Words, “This is My body,” and the wine becomes His blood as the priest pronounces, “This is My blood.” Therefore, according to Catholic doctrine, communicants actually dine on the body of Christ. In fairness, this is not teaching some form of ecclesiastical cannibalism, but it does argue that in participating, worshippers actually receive Christ in totality through eating the bread.
Officially, the Council of Trent declared, “Because Christ our Redeemer declared that what He offered under the species of bread was truly His Body, it has always been the faith of the Church of God (and this holy Synod now states it again) that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change takes place in which the entire substance of the bread is changed into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord, and the entire substance of the wine into the substance of His Blood. This change the Holy Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls ‘transubstantiation.’”
However, medieval theologians within the Catholic realm were not united in accepting transubstantiation; a surprising number advocated the doctrine of consubstantiation. Consubstantiation presents the view that the substance of the bread and wine are not actually changed, but that the body and blood of Christ co-exists with the bread and the wine. Today, some theologians within the Anglican communion, among Eastern Orthodox churches and within the Lutheran churches, hold to the doctrine of consubstantiation.
Most contemporary evangelical Christians see the statement of the Saviour as symbolic. It is doubtful that any evangelical theologians believe that Christ is physically received through participating in the Communion Meal; they are virtually unanimous in seeing the statement as symbolic. Thus, the bread symbolises the broken body of the Saviour; and the wine symbolises His blood that was shed because of our sin.
Tragically, it sometimes seems that the Communion Meal has become just another ritual without great meaning in the estimate of participants. Observance of the rite is rushed because worshippers feel pressed to get through it in order to get on with their lives, or because they don’t wish to give thought to the observance. This should never be allowed to happen.
I would not ever want to see the Meal degenerate into a mere ritual. I would not ever want to see us rush through the observance simply because we had an arbitrary schedule we felt compelled to keep. It would be far better for us to cease observing the Communion Supper than to permit it to become a mere formality tacked on at the conclusion of a service. In that case, we will have become the centre of what we call worship rather than focusing on Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. The Master invited His disciples with the words that are so familiar: “Take, eat; this is my body.” Join me in thinking about the Master’s invitation to worship.
THE SETTING FOR THE MEAL — What was happening when Jesus instituted this tradition for His disciples? If we understand the circumstances that surrounded the event, we will have greater understanding of what He meant when He spoke the words that are the focus of our study this day. Turn your mind back to events that began a day before the Last Supper.
Jesus was leading His disciples toward Jerusalem. He had repeatedly endeavoured to prepare them for what was coming. Approaching Jerusalem on that final journey, Mark tells us that Jesus “began to teach [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed” [MARK 8:31]. It is fascinating that Mark, writing as Peter amanuensis, adds, “And He said this plainly” [MARK 8:32].
Six days later, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, an event recorded in several of the Gospel accounts. Coming down from the mountain, He healed a demonised boy and rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith. Passing on through Galilee and toward Capernaum, we read that “He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him” [MARK 9:31]. Such pointed teaching was hard for the disciples to take. Matthew appends the observation that the disciples “were greatly distressed” [MATTHEW 17:23].