(This tract is a short collection of scripture passages about the Eucharist. All biblical passages excerpted in this tract are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The NASB was translated by the Lockman Foundation, a Protestant group. It is the most literal of widely published translations.)
The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is especially hard for the modern mind to accept. Although the modern mind is attracted to the idea that Christ wishes to become part of us, it is troubled by the idea that something has transformed into something else while all physical characteristics remain the same. Even when he accepts the spiritual dimension of reality, it is easier for the modern to accept that God wishes to fill man with His Holy Spirit than it is to accept that God also wishes to fill us with His incarnation. The Eucharist denies the artificial seperation between material and spiritual.
Because of the modern paradigm, the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is a radical teaching, but it is also an ancient and very scriptural teaching.
The discussion of Christís presence in the Eucharist should begin with the first celebration of the Eucharist at the last supper. The following are the three gospel accounts of Jesus celebrating the last supper.
And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks. He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Fatherís kingdom."
And while they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it; and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup, and given thanks, He gave it to them; and they all drank from it. And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I shall never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God"
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; For I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
Each account declares the wine is blood and the bread is body. Throughout the gospels Jesus sometimes speaks in parables and symbols. Could these statements be austere metaphors? When Jesus speaks in parables and symbols, the gospels often identify these instances. In addition, Mark 4:34 reveals that in teaching the crowds Jesus "did not speak to them without a parable; but He was explaining everything privately to His own disciples." In the three above accounts of the last supper, Jesus is speaking to the apostles in private, and there is no mention of metaphor or symbolism by any of the authors.
In fact, the apostles take his words to heart.
|1 Corinthians 11:23-31
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which 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 He took the cup also 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.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
In this passage, Paul stresses the importance of the body and "the cup of the Lord." He also states a very solemn warning. If a man partakes of the body and cup "in an unworthy manner" or "does not judge the body rightly," he becomes "guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord" and "eats and drinks judgment to himself." Throughout the epistles, Paul is very careful with his words, and he does not use many (if any) parables and metaphors with his readers. Without any conditional statements, Paul is affirming that the Eucharist is the true body and blood of the Lord.
Jesus knew that the idea of the Eucharist as His true body and blood would be difficult to accept, and He lost many followers due to this teaching. It is wise to read John 6:30-66 at length.
And they were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down out of heaven'?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. "It is written in the prophets, 'AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. "Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. "I am the bread of life. "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" 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 yourselves. "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. "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, he also will live because of Me. "This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. "But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father." As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.
The Jews argue, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?," and the disciples grumble "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?" Although it causes some of His disciples to leave Him, Jesus persists, "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink," and asks, "Does this cause you to stumble?" Jesus would only jeopardize the faith of His disciples on a necessary and very important issue. The love of Jesus compels him to speak truthfully and gently. Concerning His flesh being "true food" and his blood "true drink", Jesus could not make his words any more gentle without jeopardizing the truth.
Jesus even reinforced this teaching in one of the few recorded stories of Jesus appearing after his resurrection. The gospel of Luke describes the resurrected Jesus meeting two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, "What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?" And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, "Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?" And He said to them, "What things?" And they said to Him, "The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. "But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. "Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see."
And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! "Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over." So He went in to stay with them. When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, "The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon." They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize the face of Jesus. The disciples did not recognize the voice or preaching of Jesus. They did not even recognize the marks of the crucifixion on his resurrected body. Jesus could have revealed himself to these apostles in many ways, but surprisingly, Jesus decided to identify himself by the breaking of the bread. By this act, Jesus was making a powerful association between his resurrected body and the Eucharist.
Jesus has the power to give his flesh for us to eat because he is God. St. Ambrose (340-397 AD) summarizes the solution perfectly.
"Could not Christís word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature."
When some Jews rejected Jesusís teaching on the Eucharist, they were really rejecting the divinity of Jesus. The idea of Godís presence in bread was not strange to the Jews because God foreshadowed the Eucharist in the temple worship. Consider the following three passages from the Old Testament.
|Exodus 25: 29-31
"You shall make its dishes and its pans and its jars and its bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. "You shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before Me at all times. "Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it.
|Exodus 39: 32-38
They brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars and its sockets; and the covering of rams' skins dyed red, and the covering of porpoise skins, and the screening veil; the ark of the testimony and its poles and the mercy seat; the table, all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence;
|1 King 7:47-49
Solomon left all the utensils unweighed, because they were too many; the weight of the bronze could not be ascertained. Solomon made all the furniture which was in the house of the LORD: the golden altar and the golden table on which was the bread of the Presence; and the lampstands, five on the right side and five on the left, in front of the inner sanctuary, of pure gold; and the flowers and the lamps and the tongs, of gold;
The bread of the Presence was always in the Wilderness Tabernacle that accompanied Moses and Aaron, the Temple of God built by Solomon, and the re-built Temple in the time of Jesus. Surprisingly, we know that the bread of the Presence was also eaten.
|1 Samuel 21:3-7
"Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found." The priest answered David and said, "There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women." David answered the priest and said to him, "Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?" So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away.
|Matthew 12: 2-5
But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath." But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? "Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?
Although the similarity is too great to be coincidence, there is no evidence in scripture or Christian tradition to suppose that the bread of Presence and the Eucharist are the same. Instead, the Old Testament should make us more comfortable with the Eucharist.
During the period of temple worship, only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to renew the covenant of God. The high priest always renewed the covenant with a blood offering. Paul argues that we renew the new covenant of Jesus in the same way, and he says it is fitting that we all take part in the blood sacrifice through celebrating the Eucharist.
|1 Corinthians 10:15-18
I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar?
There is also written evidence from the second century about how the Church viewed the Eucharist. St. Justin Martyr (approx. 105-165 AD) wrote a letter to the pagan Emperor Antoninus Pius explaining the practices and beliefs of Christians. The following is an excerpt concerning the Eucharist from his letter to the Emperor.
And this food is called among us ukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of the word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
St. Justin was later killed for refusing to renounce Christ during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The ancient Church which survived the dark days of Roman persecutions also had faith in the Eucharist. The following story by Abba Daniel an Egyptian hermit of the early fifth century is useful and sobering.
The old man said to them, " As long as I have not been persuaded by the thing itself, I shall not be fully convinced." So they said, "Let us pray God about this mystery throughout the whole of this week and we believe that God will reveal it to us." The old man received this saying with joy and he prayed in these words, "Lord, you know that it is not through malice that I do not believe and so that I may not err through ignorance, reveal this mystery to me, Lord Jesus Christ." The old men returned to their cells and they also prayed God, saying "Lord Jesus Christ, reveal this mystery to the old man, that he may believe and not lose his reward." God heard both the prayers. At the end of the week they came to church on Sunday and sat all three on the same mat, the old man in the middle. Then their eyes were opened and when the bread was placed on the holy table, there appeared as it were a little child to these three alone. And when the priest put out his hand to break the bread, behold an angel descended from heaven with a sword and poured the childís blood into the chalice. When the priest cut the bread into small pieces, the angel also cut the child in pieces. When they drew near to receive the sacred elements, the old man alone received a morsel of bloody flesh. Seeing this he was afraid and cried out, "Lord I believe that this bread is your flesh and this chalice your blood." Immediately the flesh which he held in his hand became bread according to the mystery and he took it, giving thanks to God. Then the old men said to him, "God knows human nature and that man cannot eat raw flesh and that is why he has changed his body into bread and his blood into wine, for those who receive it in faith." Then they gave thanks to God for the old man, because he had allowed him not to lose the reward of his labor. So all three returned with joy to their own cells."
If there was one mention in scripture that the Eucharist is only symbolic, it would be appropriate to read all other scriptural passages in this light. Although the Eucharist is mentioned many times in scripture, there is not one passage which suggests that it is a symbol. In addition, the ancient tradition of the Church teaches that scripture should be taken literally on this point. Both scripture and sacred tradition are unanimous that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Jesus Christ. Although many of the founders of Protestantism (including Martin Luther) believed in the Eucharist, doubt in the miraculous, doubt in our Creatorís closeness to His creation, and confusion about physical and spiritual reality have obscured this teaching in many peopleís minds.