Thursday, July 3, 2008

Reclaiming the Sacramental (Part 3)

Having laid scriptural, ecclesiastical, and philosophical foundations for the sacraments and having discussed baptism, I now turn to a discussion of the Bible's teaching on the other Gospel sacrament whereby we commemorate and participate in the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ—the sacrament known variously as the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, and the Eucharist.

On the night he was betrayed, Christ broke bread and blessed the cup, instituting this meal as a memorial of his death until he returns and as a sharing in his once and for all atoning sacrifice. The Lord's Supper is the glorious reenactment of the Gospel message that first became our own story in the waters of baptism. It serves to bring Spirit and water-born believers back to the cross where we first met and united with Christ, prompting and empowering us to persevere in faith until Jesus returns by providing us with yet another precious glance at Calvary and by making the flesh and blood that Christ offered up there for our forgiveness available for us to eat and drink. The one loaf and one cup of this sacrament also serve to commemorate our union one to another as the body of Christ and to reconstitute and strengthen that precious and unbreakable bond. It is thus Holy Communion, both with Christ and our blood-bought brothers and sisters in Him. It is Eucharist (Greek, eucharistia, meaning thanksgiving) because in it we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for our redemption in his Son and we offer ourselves once again to him as living sacrifices. It is Eucharist most of all, however, because in it Christ graciously offers us his broken flesh and shed blood as our true food and true drink, which we thankfully receive.

It is for these reasons that the Lord's Supper may properly be spoken of as the crown jewel of the Christian faith. It is, in my experience, one of the chief joys of the Christian life—an opinion I share with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, both among those living today and down through the ages. For as much refreshment as the Lord's Supper has provided for Christians, however, it has also been a source of much bitterness. For as much brotherly love and union as Holy Communion has symbolized and made in the body of Christ, it has also been a shamefully visible witness of the body of Christ's discord and brokenness. For as much joy as the Eucharist has imparted to the chosen priesthood of which we are all part, it has also brought much sorrow to God's children.

Jesus taught us in John 13:35, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Why, then, is it that the meal that should most powerfully demonstrate this to the world instead demonstrates our extreme disunity and, sadly, even our contempt for one another? My brothers and sisters, this should not be. We have profaned the body and blood of Christ by failing to discern his body. We have eaten and drank judgment on ourselves. How shall we save this sacrament? My friends, with people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. As we consider the sacramental nature of the Lord's Supper, let us pray that God will bring us together somehow as one at the Table of the Lord before his Kingdom comes. We will all come together at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, but can we not at least come together for the dress rehearsal first?

It is in response to a climate of disunity and disorder such as we noted above that St. Paul instructs the Corinthians in the teaching on the Lord's Supper he has received from Jesus himself and offers startling words of rebuke to those among them who have been abusing the sacrament. Apparently, the Corinthians have been abusing the Communion meal in two particularly disastrous ways. First, they have been sharing in the "cup of the Lord" and the "cup of demons." To set the scene, some of the Corinthians have been partaking in sacrifices to idols to the spiritual detriment of their "weaker” brothers and sisters in Christ. These "weak" Christians have stumbled in their faith and been "destroyed" after seeing Christians whom they thought to be mature followers of Jesus eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul advises Christians with the knowledge that idols are nothing in and of themselves to forsake their freedom to eat the sacrifices for the sake of the "weaker" brother who has not fully come to the realization that idols are merely carved pieces of stone (1 Corinthians 8:7-13).

But, as we all remember from Sunday School, those Corinthians were always getting into trouble with mean old Uncle Paul. Paul, knowing better than anybody how slow the Corinthians were to get a clue, after discussing how he gives up his own Christian freedom for the sake of others, tackles the question from another angle. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-21, he compares and contrasts pagan sacrificial cults to the Christian ritual meal of the Lord's Supper:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? 19What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything. 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
I believe that Paul is talking about something far more complex and powerful than a purely commemorative meal. Just as those who sacrifice to idols participate with demons and come into communion with them, so do Christians participate in the blood and body of Christ in the Lord's Supper and thus come into a real and powerful communion with Jesus. In regard to the Lord's Supper, we notice that he describes the sharing of the cup and the sharing of the bread as a participation in Christ's sacrifice, not just a commemoration of it. This is an interesting idea to say the least for those of us who were raised in traditions that deny that anything miraculous or supernatural occurs in the Lord's Supper.

However, because Paul is not teaching directly on the Lord's Supper here but simply using it as a point of comparison against which to speak about sacrifices to idols, we cannot build a solid sacramental theology about Communion from this passage alone. Nevertheless, in light of the other explicit passages concerning the Eucharist in the New Testament, this passage clearly shows forth a sacramental understanding of the Lord's Supper.

The second way in which the Corinthians have abused the sacrament is the practice the affluent in the congregation have adopted of making the Eucharist an opportunity to flaunt their status superiority over the poorer members of the community. For instance, when the Corinthians gather together as a church, they separate into divisions, to which Paul sarcastically remarks, "I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1 Corinthians 11:18). As a result, the church does not eat and drink in unity and brotherhood but rather in disunity and strife.

In order to understand this, we must note that the early Christians did not commemorate the Lord's Supper in as formal a fashion as we do today. We must envision their celebration of Communion not as taking place in a church service per se but rather as taking place in the context of a potluck dinner of sorts. People brought their own food out of their own abundance to share with one another. It was only in the course of this "love feast," or agape, as this meal came to be known, that the Eucharistic bread would be blessed, broken, and shared and that the Eucharistic wine would be blessed and passed about to be shared. Christians were to share in the body and blood of Christ and the larger meal surrounding it as equals.

Among the Corinthians, however, the sharing of this sacred meal is being done on anything but equal terms. As Paul notes, "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat. 21For in eating, each one goes ahead in his own meal. One goes hungry and one gets drunk" (11:20-21). Sharply rebuking them, he goes on to thunder, "What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not" (11:22). Instead of a common meal that affirms the unity, equality, and genuine love that believers in Christ have amongst themselves in the Church, in the Corinthian congregation the Lord's Supper has become a shameful, divisive, self-indulgent party in which the affluent gorge themselves and get drunk, refusing to share their food or commune with the poorer members of the congregation. It has become a time for wounding and tearing down rather than the time of healing and edification Paul understands it to be.

After giving the words of institution, Paul renders a judgment on the Corinthians' practice of Communion that cannot easily be theologized away to conclude that participation in the rite has no direct spiritual consequences. No, what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 goes directly against this conclusion:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
Is this mere bread and mere wine? I do not think one would be a fool to say that this is not typical food and typical drink. Something powerful and mysterious is happening here behind the scenes that we cannot easily grasp with our demythologized modern way of thinking. Notice how Paul directly connects the judgment unworthy participants bring upon themselves not just to whether or not they discern the body but also to their eating and drinking in light of this failure. They eat and drink judgment on themselves, and this judgment is manifested in physical consequences, such as weakness, illness, and, shockingly, death.

We must also note the role of discernment here. What exactly is the body that is not being properly discerned by the Corinthians? This is a bit ambiguous. It could either mean the fleshly body of the sacrificed Jesus or the church community, often likened in the New Testament to the body of Christ. Considering the depth and richness of the term in the New Testament and the context of this particular passage, it would be highly reasonable to conclude that Paul is using body in both senses here. In their abuse of this sacred meal, the Corinthians have "counted the blood of the covenant a common thing," (Hebrews 10:29) forgetting that Christ gave his own flesh and blood on the cross for their salvation. Furthermore, they have failed to recognize that, as a church community, they are all knit together into one body of Christ, with all parts existing in equal worth and dignity. Instead, they have divided and dismembered the body. The Corinthians have thus transgressed against both the body Christ offered up as an atonement for sin and the Church that is now his earthly body.

What about the elements of bread and wine? Is it possible that Paul is speaking to the Corinthians’ failure to recognize the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist? We will fully address this controversial question in my next post, but, at the very least, the Corinthians have forgotten that the Lord's Supper is a participation or sharing in the body and blood of Christ. Whether this is a participation in the sacrifice in the direct sense that the bread and wine themselves become the literal body and blood of Christ or whether the bread and wine spiritually communicate the body and blood of Christ to the participants cannot be determined on the basis of this passage alone (or, on the basis of any other passages; the way one views this question may depend entirely on the interpretive lens through which he or she views the Bible's instruction on the Eucharist), but, it is quite clear that the Lord's Supper, with all of its parts—the community, the one administering the sacrament (Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and some very high Church Protestant traditions require a priest to consecrate the elements), the elements, the Word spoken, and the eating and drinking—is a matter of great consequence that cannot be taken lightly. For Paul, in fact, it is a matter of great spiritual benefit or harm to those who receive it.

In addition to their appearance in 1 Corinthians 11, Christ's words of institution of the Lord's Supper are found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:15-20), and, though they do not appear in John's Gospel, this Gospel has perhaps the most profound Eucharistic theology of the four, as we shall see when we look at John 6. Since Paul's version of the words of institution is virtually a composite of what appears in the Gospels, we will focus most closely on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
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, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way also he took 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." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The institution of the Lord's Supper in each of the Synoptic Gospels differs only slightly from the above. Matthew and Mark, for instance, speak of the blood as being "poured out for many." Paul concurs with Luke in describing the cup as "the new covenant in my blood" but Matthew and Mark render it as "my blood of the new covenant." Matthew emphasizes the eating and drinking in Communion ("Take, eat" and "Drink of it, all of you"); Paul and Luke emphasize the remembrance of Christ's death ("Do this in remembrance of me."). All four instances of the institution of the Supper involve some sort of expression of the tension between Christ's death and the expectation of his return (1 Corinthians 11:26, Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:15-18).

In discussing the particulars of what the words of institution mean, I will be turning to a brilliant evangelical attempt at retrieving the sacraments. In his book, Christ, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, Christian Reformed Church pastor Leonard Vander Zee beautifully articulates a Reformed view of the sacraments, drawing from biblical scholars and theologians across a number of Christian traditions and from John Calvin's profound but regrettably largely abandoned teachings on the sacraments (see chapters 9-12).

The first thing Vander Zee points out about Communion as it appears in Scripture is that it is a Jewish meal. As a Jewish meal, the Lord's Supper begins with a typical Jewish table blessing, called in Hebrew the berakah. When Jesus broke the bread, he would have spoken these words that are familiar to Jews (and, coincidently, to some Baptists, who use these words as a blessing for the Lord's Supper), "Blessed art thou, Lord God of the universe, who bringeth forth bread from the earth." After supper, Jesus would have blessed the cup, saying, "Blessed art thou, Lord God of the universe, who createth the fruit of the vine."

The significance of the berakah is that it carries the idea that the bread is God's gift and that the blessing of the bread at the beginning of the meal covers the entire meal. The bread is offered to God in thanksgiving and, then, God returns the whole meal, represented by the bread, as a gift to his people for their use. Those who eat of this blessed bread become sharers in the blessing and the whole meal is sanctified to them. Likewise, the blessing of the cup at the end of the meal makes those who drink of the blessed wine sharers in the blessing and sanctifies to them all that they have drank in the course of the meal.

Something similar happens in the course of the Eucharist. It involves the thanksgiving for and offering up in sacrifice to God of bread and wine, which represents all that he has given us for our bodily nourishment. Just as in the course of the Jewish berakah God returns to his people as a gift for their physical nourishment the bread and wine they have offered to him, so in the Eucharist does God offer back to us as a gift for our spiritual nourishment bread and wine that, at the very least, carry with them the whole person of Christ—his body, blood, soul, humanity, and Divinity, as well as his life of obedience and redeeming death and resurrection (see Vander Zee, 140-143).

In discussing the Jewishness of the Lord's Supper, we must also note how it draws isolated individuals into a single community. As Vander Zee quotes biblical scholar Alasdair Heron:
For the Jews, as for other ancient peoples, the shared meal had a profound religious and human significance of which we in our largely secularized and functional outlook have almost wholly lost sight. Those who ate together were bound together by that simple sharing. . . . the meal itself established a bond between those who shared in it: it did not merely symbolize the bond, but actually constituted it. (qtd. in 143)
The Lord's Supper is the table meal of the Christian Church, and as such, it establishes our union with one another and with Christ. When Jesus took the bread and said, "This is my body," he attached his presence among us directly to the loaf from which we all eat. Whenever we eat this bread, we can be sure that we are united in fellowship with him and with one another.

In this same vein, Vander Zee also points us to the fact that the Lord's Supper is a Passover feast. The Last Supper, as presented in the Synoptic Gospels, was a Passover feast, and, though John's Gospel does not provide an account of the Last Supper, in keeping with the Evangelist's strong Eucharistic theology, it clearly sets Jesus' death in the context of the Passover. That Christ instituted the sacrament at the Passover says a great deal about how we are to interpret the meaning of the Lord's Supper. This connection was so clear to the earliest Christians that Paul boldly declares in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival . . . . "

The most important things Vander Zee notes about the Passover and its connection to the Lord's Supper are the particular points in the Passover meal where Jesus offers the words of institution, the conspicuous absence of any mention of the Passover lamb in the biblical accounts of the Last Supper, the role and understanding of remembrance in the Passover meal, and the apocalyptic significance of the Passover.

According to biblical scholar Joachim Jeremias, the Passover meal consists of four parts. For our immediate purposes the middle two parts are what we need to look at. The second part of the Passover includes the Haggadah—the recounting of God's deliverance of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. The third part involves the main meal, which begins with the blessing and breaking of the bread. This third part of the ritual concludes with the blessing of the third cup, called the "cup of blessing," after the meal is eaten (noted in Vander Zee, 144-145).

In light of the structure of the Passover, then, Jesus' blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread must have occurred at the beginning of the main meal, and, considering that Paul and Luke indicate that Christ blessed and offered the cup "after supper" and that Paul calls it the "cup of blessing," the cup must have been the third cup of the meal. What is important about this is that Jesus would have said the Haggadah prior to his words over the bread and cup. Thus, as Jeremias argues, it is very likely that in the course of the Haggadah Jesus taught the disciples the special meaning of the Passover as it related to his impending death (noted in Vander Zee, 145). Therefore, it would have been unmistakably clear what Jesus meant when he blessed the bread and wine, saying, "This is my body. This is my blood." They would have understood that a sharing in the bread and wine was a sharing in the flesh and blood Christ would offer up for them on the cross.

Another very important biblical clue to the connection between the Passover and the Lord's Supper is the conspicuous absence of any mention of the Passover lamb in the biblical accounts. Vander Zee captures well the nature of this paradox:
When Jesus and his disciples met that night for the Passover meal, the roasted lamb lay prominently at the center of the table. Yet the Gospels never mention the lamb except in the disciples' preparation for the supper. Jesus' words over the bread and cup seem to have nothing to do with the lamb that was so central to the Passover meal. Is the lamb forgotten, or do we have to somehow reckon with its unspoken presence? (145-146)
The simple answer is that the true Passover lamb is not lying on the table but that he is presiding at this very special Passover. When Jesus blesses the bread and wine, saying, "This is my body. This is my blood," he is identifying himself as the sacrificial lamb. The body and blood point to the two parts of the sacrifice that are separated in the ritual slaying (noted in Vander Zee, 146). As Jeremias also argues, Matthew and Mark's words of institution describe the blood being "poured out for many," a clear reference to the willing lamb in Isaiah 53:12, who "poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many."

John's Gospel identifies Christ as the Passover lamb in perhaps the clearest and most eloquent ways. For instance, early in the Gospel, John the Baptist calls Jesus the "Lamb of God." Additionally, Jesus' "bread of life" discourse in John 6, easily the strongest teaching on the sacrificial nature of Jesus' death in the New Testament, takes place at the Passover (John 6:4). John's most brilliant way of identifying Jesus as the Passover lamb, however, is his decision to place Jesus' crucifixion not on Friday, as the other three Gospels writers do, but on Thursday, the "day of Preparation for the Passover," (John 19:14) on which the Passover lambs were ritually slaughtered in the temple. Vander Zee writes:
Of course, this causes some chronological problems between this and the Synoptic accounts . . . , but our focus should be on John's purpose in setting Jesus' crucifixion on the day of preparation. John clearly wants his readers to see Jesus' death on the cross as the true sacrificial lamb occurring while the Passover animals are slaughtered in the temple. (148).
The results of Christ's Passover sacrifice of himself mirror those of the original Passover sacrifice. Just as God passed over the dwelling places of the firstborn of Israel because their doorposts were covered with the blood of the spotless Passover lamb, so does God's wrath pass over us because Jesus has covered the doorposts of our hearts with his blood. And just as the Passover marks the liberation of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt, so does the Lord's Supper mark our liberation from the chains of sin and death and into the "glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).

However, as a Jewish understanding of the commemorative nature of the Passover shows, the Lord's Supper is much more than just a remembrance of an event in the long-distant past. Both the Passover and the Eucharist are God's bringing to bear on the present and future his great historic works of emancipation. For instance, Vander Zee points us to what the Jewish Mishnah says in regard to the Passover: "In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt. . . . He brought us out from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to a Festival-day" (qtd. in 149). The Passover is thus not just a recollection or historical reconstruction of the Exodus but "is a way of making the past present and of making each participant in the meal a slave freed by God's mighty hand" (Vander Zee, 149).

The connection between this aspect of the Passover and the Lord's Supper is explicit in that the Septuagint account of the original Passover translates the Hebrew "remembrance" as the Greek word anamnesis, which is the same word Jesus uses in the Gospels when commanding the disciples to partake of the Lord's Supper as a memorial of his death. As indicated in the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, anamnesis connotes the idea of re-presentation, the idea of "making present the past which can never remain merely past but becomes effective in the present" (qtd. in Vander Zee, 149). Like the Passover, the Eucharist is a remembrance of God's great works not just by recollection but by participation.

The apocalyptic implications of the Passover show that the Lord's Supper is an anticipation and proclamation of Christ's coming Kingdom. By Jesus' day, the Passover had become a feast of longing for the Messiah, especially in light of the Roman occupation of Palestine. The Hallel, the recitation of psalms beginning in the second part of the Passover Seder and concluding in the fourth and final part of the feast, culminates with Psalm 118, which points forward to the day when Messiah will come and make all things new.

The crowds greeted Jesus with the words "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Psalm 118:26) when he arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Now, on the evening on which he will be betrayed, Jesus and his disciples sing this psalm as they leave the Upper Room and head for the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, well aware that he is "the stone that the builders rejected," sorrows over his coming sufferings but also looks forward to his exaltation as "the chief cornerstone" (Psalm 118:22).

Likewise, whenever we gather around the Lord's Table, we find ourselves between sorrow and hope. In somber reflection, we commemorate the Lord's Supper as Christ's last supper with his disciples and as a participation in his death. On the other hand, we celebrate the Eucharist in faith, joy, and hope as a looking forward to the time when Christ will return and gather us all together at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb to eat the Passover (Luke 22:16) and "drink the fruit of the vine" (Matthew 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18) again.

We cannot conclude our discussion about the Lord's Supper as it appears in Scripture without dealing in some depth with those great and mysterious words Jesus spoke over the bread and wine at the Last Supper: "This is my body. This is my blood." It goes without saying that these words have a long history of dispute and controversy attached to them, but, what light does the Bible shed on the meaning of these words?

No biblical text develops the idea of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood as extensively as Christ's "bread of life" discourse in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. After having met the physical needs of the crowds following him by miraculously feeding them all from just five loaves and two fishes (v. 1-14), Jesus appropriately teaches the crowd about how he can fulfill their spiritual hunger using the language of food. He begins to build-up to a controversial crescendo by saying, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (v. 35).

Confused about his meaning and offended by the assertion, that he, the mere son of the humble carpenter Joseph, is "the bread come down from heaven," the religious leaders enter the discussion. Responding to their grumbling, the strength of Jesus' words build. Even more boldly, he declares:
I am the bread of life. 49Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of this world is my flesh. (v. 48-51)
At this point, Jesus goes beyond the pale for many of those who had been following him. His discourse concludes with these shocking words:
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. 54Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (v. 53-56)
Without question, Christ is teaching that he will be sacrificed for the life of the world, that the breaking of his body and the shedding of his blood will purchase salvation for those who put their faith in him. In the centuries of debate and controversy over this passage, it has not been the fact that Jesus is teaching about his sacrificial death that has been in dispute. In fact, as the passage shows, this was clear to those who heard Jesus deliver this teaching and stopped following him as a result (v. 66).

The dispute about this passage has been whether or not Jesus is making in it a direct reference to the Lord's Supper. As Vander Zee notes, there are two very important things we must keep in mind when addressing this particular question. The first is that it is stretches credulity to believe that John's late first-century readers would not have made the connection between this passage and the sacramental meal they celebrated each Sunday (or more often than that). Secondly, we cannot escape our theological and sacramental prejudices when reading this passage. A majority of biblical scholars conclude that in this passage Jesus makes, at the very least, a veiled reference to the sacramental eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood in the Lord's Supper (see Vander Zee, 152 for a list of relevant commentaries on John).

Accepting the conclusion that Jesus is speaking in some way about the Lord's Supper in John 6, this discourse is highly valuable for discerning how Christ would have us view the Communion meal. In some mystical and miraculous sense, in the Eucharist Jesus gives us his flesh and blood as nourishment for our souls to eternal life. When we come to the Lord's Table, we are receiving as spiritual food, through the work of the Holy Spirit (6:63), Christ's death and resurrection for us and a powerful, personal confirmation that he is with us and in us always, even to the end of the age.

According to the specific verb usage in this passage, we note that this is a habitual feast. We do not simply "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood" once or every great once in awhile. We are to "feed"—literally munch, knaw, chew in the Greek—on the body and blood of Jesus.

Undoubtedly, through belief and prayer, we can chew on Christ continually, but the wonder of the Eucharist is that we can receive the sanctifying benefits of the cross, participate in his sacrifice, and unite ourselves to him by the physical, earthly, very human actions of eating and drinking—actions that are fundamental to the maintenance of life. And what do we eat and drink as the body and blood of Christ but the most elemental and universal of all food substances—bread and wine. Just as eating and drinking, bread and wine nourish and energize our bodies, so too does the body and blood of Jesus, given to us in a uniquely powerful and effective way in the Lord's Supper, nourish and energize the life of our souls and help preserve us to everlasting life.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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