I have cried watching movies before.
I mean, if we’re being honest. The most recent time I cried watching a movie was at Easter, this year, when I watched, again, “The Passion of The Christ.” I was, and still am, in the latter stages of officially joining the Catholic Church and still kind of processing some things in my mind and heart. There comes the scene in the movie where Jesus’ cross is being lifted up and the scene flashes back and forth between the crucifixion and the Last Supper. As Jesus’ cross is lifted up, we see the scene where He lifts up the bread He will break and we see the lights come on for the Apostle John. It’s a powerful scene and I broke down. I tell that story to illustrate what I'm talking about today...
As my journey into the rich tradition of the Church deepened, I ran into another kind of hurdle.
First off, I didn’t even know that that meant. I had to look up the word Eucharist. Basically, it means “thanksgiving.” It’s a little more complex than that but that’s the basic meaning. Most Protestants call it “The Lord’s Supper,” or “Communion.”
I want to say very clearly here before I go much further: In discussing the Holy Eucharist, we must approach with great caution. Here’s what I mean by that. We are delving into things that are very great mysteries that we will never, on this side of the Parousia, fully understand. Having said that, this is really important and there are a lot of things about the Holy Eucharist that we can understand. Furthermore, what we cannot always understand by reason, we can accept by faith. My treatment on this post of the Holy Eucharist will by no means be exhaustive. Tomes have been written on this by many people way smarter than me. My intent is not to give a full theological treatment to this topic; rather, to discuss very briefly how I came to this position.
I want to begin this one, not by talking about Church history even though the Church has had much to say about this matter, but by considering the words of our Lord first. If you have a Bible, I suggest reading John 6 to start.
Once you read that, I think we’re pretty much done here.
Ha! I’m kidding. In all seriousness, that text is pretty clear. Jesus was abundantly clear. There’s not a lot of wiggle room there. He said (paraphrasing slightly), “You have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And, by the way, there was no mistaking what He said. It’s pretty clear from the text that the Jews knew exactly what He meant by what He said. In fact, it was so clear to them that they were like, “Is this dude nuts? We can’t eat his flesh and drink his blood.” Notice that Jesus didn’t back down. He didn’t say, “You’re misunderstanding me guys. I was speaking metaphorically. I didn’t mean what you think that means. It’s symbolic only.” He didn’t say that. In fact, He doubled down. And that’s when everybody started leaving. Do we really think people would leave if Jesus was speaking metaphorically?
Now let’s consider the Last Supper, at which Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. You can read Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and even 1 Corinthians 11. I want us to first look at what Jesus said. This is super important.
Can I just be really brutally honest? One of the things that I became really frustrated with within my former Protestant tradition was a lack of taking seriously the plain meaning of the text of Holy Scripture. I mean, my Baptist people had no problem taking some texts literally but then the ones that made them uncomfortable were explained away by, “Well that’s not what that means.” Enough of that, back to the text…
Read those texts. What did Jesus say? He said, “This is My body….This is My blood.” He did not say, “This represents My body and blood” or “This is a memorial of My body and blood” or any other linguistic gymnastics Protestants want to do with this. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said very plainly, “This is My body…This is My blood.”
I should just drop the mic and walk away now. I mean, really. Doesn’t this pretty much settle any debate, erase all doubts? It should.
What’s the point you may ask? Why is it necessary that Jesus do this and ask us to do this?
“He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages and to entrust to the Church his Spouse a memorial of his death and resurrection.” (USCCB)
But isn’t it just bread and wine? I mean, it’s not really Jesus’ body and blood, is it? Why would something so “crass” be true? Why can’t it just be symbolic?
Because that’s not what Jesus has given us.
Because God inhabits and uses physical matter to give to us His grace. Water for baptism, bread and wine for sustenance. God uses His creation. I mean, He came in the flesh after all.
As I ran headlong into this, I was astounded to learn that the unanimous position of the early Church was of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
There is so much more I could say, so very much more. But this is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation. I am happy to recommend resources for you if you want to learn and study more.
For me, this has become an unspeakable comfort to me. Now I don’t have to conjure up some emotional feeling. Now I don’t have to wonder, “Is Jesus really here with us as we worship?” Now I don’t have to close my eyes and try really hard to imagine a spiritual concept. No, I have, we have, the Church has, before her very eyes week after week, day after day, a flesh and blood physical reminder…nay, the very body, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus and not merely a reminder.
We have been given a very great gift by our Lord, Church! We have this most blessed assurance of the presence of our Lord in His very body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament! Oh Church, what a gift of His grace!
Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world! Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!
When I first began to wander into the historic Church, one of the things I had to get used to was a lectionary. For my self sufficient, individualistic Protestant mindset, I was sure I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I should be reading from the Bible and when. But then I began to pay attention to the readings and I saw something amazing.
I began to see the Bible as a whole. Now yes, I had known that for awhile but we get lost sometimes I think in our “Bible reading plan.” We forget that the Old Testament and the New Testament are two sides to the same coin. I believe it was St. Augustine who said,
“The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed, the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed.”
If we view this from a Christological standpoint (as we should when we come to ALL of Holy Scripture), then one could say that, in the OT we see Christ concealed or foreshadowed and in the NT we see Christ revealed.
I find such great richness in reading Holy Scripture this way, seeing it all as one organic whole.
Today’s readings for Mass illustrated this perfectly. The Old Testament lesson (reading) is from 1 Kings 19:9-13. I want us to consider verses 9 through the end of the chapter. You can go and read that now before proceeding. Elijah has just hiked for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
The place is super important in the Bible. This is the mountain where the law was given to the people of God who had just left slavery in Egypt. This is the mountain where God had revealed Himself to both Moses and the people of Israel. This is where Elijah has come. And why has he come?
He came to complain.
Look at the text. God asks Elijah what he’s doing there. Elijah replies by complaining. He basically says, “Look, I’ve been faithful. I’ve done what you asked me to do. But everyone else has abandoned you, no one worships you anymore. I’m the only one left and they want to kill me.”
And what does God say? He says, “Go out and stand on the mountain.” So Elijah does. The Scripture tells that a strong wind tore the mountain, breaking rocks before the Lord. An earthquake shook the mountain and fire scorched everything in sight. But the Lord was not in the wind or the quake or the fire. Then Elijah hears a whisper, a still small voice and he recognizes that Voice. He wraps his face in his cloak and goes out to hear what God will say.
Now, let’s skip to the gospel reading for the day. St. Matthew’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 22-33. Go and read that before proceeding.
Jesus was also on a mountain, but praying, not complaining. When He comes down, the boat that His disciples took is a long way from shore and a wind has come up. Sound familiar?
So Jesus saunters up the boat…on the water. And, rightly so, the disciples are terrified. But, Jesus speaks. He speaks over the wind, telling them not to be afraid and assuring them that it is He. Then something really crazy happens. Peter says, in essence, “Jesus, I want you to prove that it’s you and I’m not seeing things. If it’s you, command me to come out to you on the water.”
In my mind, when I close my eyes and put myself there, I believe Jesus whispered. I believe His voice was so soft, so quiet in the chaos of the moment, with the wind howling and waves crashing. But Peter heard Him. Peter heard the whisper and he knew that voice.
That was the voice of God-in-the-flesh. That was the voice of One who walked on water, that was the voice of the One who had healed the sick and cleansed the lepers. That was the voice that Peter would follow forever.
So Peter steps out and walks on water. But it didn’t take long for Peter to fear. It didn’t take long for what was going on around Peter to distract him, to cause his faith to waver.
Elijah had the same problem. Elijah was discouraged and afraid. Elijah was distracted by the faithlessness of the people around him and it caused his faith to waver.
But here’s where we have hope.
That voice still speaks. That still, small whisper that spoke to Eiljah still speaks. If you read the rest of the chapter, God tells Elijah that there are thousands more like him, thousands more who are faithful.
That voice still speaks. That calm, still voice still beckons Peter from the boat and tells him not to be afraid. ‘Don’t be distracted. Don’t be dismayed. Don’t be faithless.’
All of Holy Scripture, all of life is about Jesus, the Christ of God. God-in-the-flesh has come. He still speaks to us, even when our faith is weak. He still speaks amidst the chaos of our world; not in the crashing of the wind and rocks tearing up around us, nor in the fire that seems to burn our very world away, nor in the crashing waves or rushing winds of the storm. He still speaks in that still, small voice, beckoning us to follow, be faithful, step out and fear not. When we are faithless, He is faithful.
He is faithful.
He is faithful.
Amen and amen!