Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked. So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. (John 6:52-56)
Read: Psalm 50, 73-74
Relate: When I was first beginning to study church history one thing that really confused me was how much discussion, debate, and conflict in the early reformation was centered around the Eucharist. What I did not yet realize was that, in the early years of the Catholic church, the Sunday gathering, what they called mass, was completely and totally centered around what we today call communion. It was the focal point of the service and everything else that took place was a prelude leading up to it. The early protestant reformers had shifted the primary purpose of the Sunday gathering away from the Eucharist and on to the preaching of the word. As the protestants were formulating their theology and priorities, everything was under re-examination in an effort to get back to what God originally intended for His church. Since the Eucharist had historically held such a high view, understanding what Jesus meant when He said, “Take, eat. This is my body…” took front and center in this process.
This discussion came to a head when the primary figure in the Swiss reformation, Zwingli, met up with the primary reformer in Germany, Luther. In 1529 these two giants of the faith met together at Marburg Castle in hopes that the two separate protestant movements could be joined. The main point of difference that needed to be hashed out was the Lords Supper. Of the two Luther held a view closer to that of the Catholic church. He disagreed with how the church so often and so frequently was withholding the bread and the cup from the laity and he also disagreed with their understanding that it was a work to perform. He viewed it more as a gift to be given. The main thing was that Luther agreed with the Catholic church that, somehow, we literally were eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ when we participated in communion. He felt that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was pointless speculation but agreed with its end product.
Zwingli, on the other hand, went much further in breaking from the Catholic view. Although Luther is the more famous of the two men, Zwingli was the more influential and most protestant churches today hold a view much closer to his. Zwingli believed that when we take part in communion we are participating in a “public testimony of a previous grace”. Communion is symbolic. He felt that when we try to make something more of this ceremony of remembrance, we lose the true value of the primary purpose for taking communion which is a public proclamation of salvation and an encouragement to the church.
React: Ultimately the two men could not agree and chose to go their separate ways. As story has it, Luther took his bread knife and carved into the table, “This is my body.” Then he left the knife there stuck in the table as he got up and walked out the door. When I heard of this for the first time I shook my head in wonder and regret. How could these great men let such a small issue be a point of separation. What I failed to realize was that at the heart of this debate was the issue of salvation.
If we want to be part of the body of Christ we must, somehow, be active participants in His sacrifice. The “how” on this varied from one’s understanding to another but the fact that it must occur was an underlying theme for all. If we are Christians then we must let the personhood and the sacrifice He made for us get deep down inside. It must become part of who we are. When Evangelicals talk about asking Jesus into our heart, when we talk about Him taking up residence in us, this is communion. Zwingli’s Reformed Church talked about the Eucharist as a symbol of that reality, Lutherans saw it as an agent of that reality and Catholics as the reality itself. For all, Christianity is far far more than just an intellectual assent. It isn’t enough to just say we believe. It must become who we are. No matter how we understand it taking place, it is essential that we take, eat His body. He must abide in us and we must be found in Him.
God, invade every pore of my being. Come and take up residence in me. Be my sustenance. Be my provision. I want You in me. I cannot survive without You. So I come. I surrender myself to You so that we can live in Holy Communion. Be the Lord of my life. Be my very life itself.