Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Receiving the True Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist

This past week in the Episcopal Daily Office, we have read through John chapter 6. John chapter 6 contains Jesus's discourse on the Bread of Life. It is one of my favorite passages of Scripture. In the office the last two days, we read Jesus words about his Body and Blood:

So Jesus said to them, "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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.  This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caperna-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 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.  But there are some of you that do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."  After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 

- John 6.53-66 RSVCE

John's Gospel, which contains no account of the Last Supper, instead has this eloquent discourse on the Bread of Life. Jesus makes the startling claim "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you... my flesh is food indeed, my blood is drink indeed..." The Gospel records that many of his disciples quit following him after this discourse. They could not bear the words.

Is it hard for us to hear this saying today? Do we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Perhaps we question that the bread and wine can change into the Body and Blood of Christ. But St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures, assures us that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. He compares the change of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding of Cana:

Since then He Himself declared and said of the Bread, This is My Body, who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has Himself affirmed and said, This is My Blood, who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?

2. He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood , and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber Matthew 9:15, shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood ?

3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature 2 Peter 1:4 .

- St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures (4th Century). 

St. Cyril says that through the Eucharist, we assimilate the Body and Blood of Christ, so we can be deified (citing 2 Peter 1.4) and one with Christ. Jesus says, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me." - John 6.56-67.

The Holy Eucharist unites us to Christ and each other, and deifies us to make us fit for union with God. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is an Apostolic doctrine, and was taught by Christ Himself. Tradition holds that  John the Apostle who leaned on Jesus's breast at the last supper, is the author of the Gospel bearing his name. One of his direct disciples, Ignatius of Antioch, handed on the Apostolic teaching of Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist in this remarkable passage from his letter to the Smyrneans:

"They (the Docetists) have no care for love, no thought for the widow and orphan, none at all for the afflicted, the captive, the hungry, or the thirsty. They even absent themselves from the Eucharist and public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same Body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness afterwards raised up..."

- Ignatius of Antioch (+ 107-110 CE) Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6-7.

Read the passage from John's Gospel; contemplate the words of Jesus; come to Him in the Holy Supper, and receive His Presence.

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