A Rabbi was sitting next to an atheist on an airplane. Every few minutes, one of the Rabbi’s children or grandchildren would inquire about his needs for food, drink, or comfort. The atheist commented, “The respect your children and grandchildren show you is wonderful. Mine don’t show me that respect.” The Rabbi responded, “Think about it. To my children and grandchildren, I am one step closer in a chain of tradition to the time when God spoke to the whole Jewish people on Mount Sinai. To your children, you are one step closer to being an ape.”
When it comes to how we were created, whether you hold to the story of creation or the theory of evolution, it is still going to be a mystery. As the Psalmist states, “I praise [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” and it all is a great mystery. Think about your breathing: maybe I’m just a bit on the weird side, but if I think about my breathing, about having to take a breath, then I find I have to keep thinking about it. It is like the automatic process stops, because I made it a conscious action rather than allowing it to remain a sub-conscious function. Speaking of our brains: our brains are able to process 11 million bits of information per second, of which only 40 to 50 can we be consciously aware. A lot happens in the background that we never give a thought to. Imagine if you had to make a conscious decisions to take every 22,000 breaths that a human averages every single day or the 100,000 times per day the heart beats… “beat, beat, beat, breathe, beat, beat…,” then Scarlett Johansson walks by “(fast) beat, beat, beat, beat, beat…. breathe.” I’m sure scientist can explain parts of it, but behind it all is a great mystery.
Today, we continue with the Bread of Heaven / Life discourse from John’s Gospel and in today’s verses we find some of the most difficult passages of Scripture (and I want to read this part for you again): Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” As we will read next week, this teaching was a show-stopper for many. Jesus goes too far. We’re not cannibals. We’re not vampires. And for the Jews, for meat to be kosher, there can be no blood. Jesus manages to offend everyone and he knows it, because he will ask, “Does this offend you?” I’ve no doubt that it still offends many today, but here is the truth: each Sunday when we partake of the Holy Eucharist, we truly receive the body and blood of Christ.
Over the years and still today, there are many who want to ease this teaching, to make it easier on the stomach, by stating that the bread and the wine are merely symbolic of the body and the blood, but it is our belief that this is an error. Why? Because Jesus did not say, “Take eat, this a symbol / representation of my body” or “Drink this wine (and he certainly didn’t use Welch’s!) Drink this wine and pretend it is my blood.” No. Jesus said, “This is my body… this is my blood.” Why? Because a symbol cannot bring you forgiveness of sins nor can a representation give you life eternal. If it is not the body and the blood, then we are simply participating in a charade. It is true, the consecrated bread and wine maintain their appearance, but through the Holy Spirit (at the epiclesis—when the priest holds his hands over the bread and the wine), they are no longer only bread and wine, but are transformed into the body and the blood.
We’ve discussed this before: Jesus told the disciples, at the institution of the Holy Eucharist on that first Maundy Thursday, to do these things “in remembrance of me.” That word remembrance is translated from the word anamnesis, which means to “make present.” “Take, eat: This is my Bod, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” “Do this for the anamnesis of me… do this and make me present.” Not a representation or a memorial of me, but a making present. A true and real presence.
The big question: how does this happen? How does the bread and the wine become the body and the blood? How were we created? How does the mind work? How can you regulate your breathing or beating of your heart? How can we know the depths of the sea or the heights of the heavens? The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “There’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know. The only shame is pretending you know all the answers.” How does the bread and the wine become the body and the blood? I don’t know. I only know that it does. How do I know that? Grace and faith. I’m going to let my friend Thomas à Kempis help me out here:
“God can do more than man can understand… Many have lost devotion because they wished to search into things beyond them. Faith is required of you, and a sincere life, not a lofty intellect nor a delving into the mysteries of God. If you neither know nor understand things beneath you, how can you comprehend what is above you? Submit yourself to God and humble reason to faith, and the light of understanding will be given you so far as it is good and necessary for you… Be not disturbed, dispute not in your mind, answer not the doubts sent by the devil, but believe the words of God, believe His saints and prophets and the evil enemy will flee from you…. Go forward, then, with sincere and unflinching faith, and with humble reverence approach this Sacrament. Whatever you cannot understand commit to the security of the all-powerful God, Who does not deceive you…. If all the works of God were such that human reason could easily grasp them, they would not be called wonderful or beyond the power of words to tell.” (TAK IOC Bk IV.18)
I don’t know how the bread and wine become the body and the blood, but through grace and faith in God we know that they do. We do not need to know how everything works in order to believe that they are true.
Finally, I know for some of you, I’m preaching to the choir, but I’m not so naïve as to believe that this teaching is contrary to what others of you hold to be true. Therefore, today I only ask that we all truly and faithfully meditate upon the words of Jesus and the teachings of the church and of those that have gone before us, for that act alone signifies that what we do in the Eucharist is far more than simply eating a wafer of bread and having a sip of wine.
Let us pray:
Jesus, our God,
You art infinitely good and perfect.
We love You above all things
and with all our hearts.
We desire to receive You in Holy Communion
that we may love You more and serve Thee better.
Come to us and strengthen us,
so that we may never be separated from You on earth
and that we may live with You eternally in heaven.