Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Body of Christ

Last week the church had us focus on the Trinity. I had to think a while about why I didn't contemplate the Trinity much as a Protestant. This week we are encouraged to think about the Eucharist. When Jesus gives us Himself under the appearance of bread and wine. Another thing I never contemplated much as a Protestant. The question as to why is a lot easier to answer. The truth of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist does not make sense without a visible church to administer it. If the Eucharist is really a miracle as Jesus says then you need some parameters around when that miracle takes place. They are simply not in scripture. So either the church defines what makes a valid Eucharist or there is no such concept as a valid Eucharist. 

Most Protestant churches never claimed to be able to do what the Catholic church does. They never claimed to be able to define doctrine. They never claimed to be able to canonize saints. They never claimed to be able to consecrate the Eucharist. They are right of course. They can't do these things. What they are wrong about is that the Catholic church can't do these things and that Christianity does not require these things be done. 

Jesus says quite plainly we need to eat His body and drink His blood. Here are the words from John 6:48-59:
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
It does not get any more plain. Yet many who say they respect scripture don't believe it. Why don't thy? Tradition. Human tradition nullifying scripture. No point in going there.

The real point is that the Eucharist is supposed to be part of the life of every Christian. We are supposed to internalize Jesus sacramentally. There are two principle sacraments of the ordinary life of a Christian. They are confession and the Eucharist. Confession is an important one but you need to start with a sin. You confess your sin and receive forgiveness. That is something Protestants get right. That is a big deal. We need to be able to ask for forgiveness and believe we have received it. 

Yet there is more. Eucharist does not start with a sin. It starts with a heart that is open to God. It is a bit like the immaculate conception. It is a mercy that can be given before the sin is committed. Mary received that mercy and therefore did not sin. More than that, she conceived God Himself inside her and brought Him into the world. Eucharist is like that. We receive the grace to avoid sin. More that that, we receive the ability to bring God into the world. 

Catholic tradition has always seen a parallel between the Eucharist and sex. The intimacy of Christ's body entering our body is a profound renewal of our covenant the same way sex is a profound renewal of our marriage vows. 

Then there is the openness to life. Sex by its nature opens up the possibility of you and your beloved bringing something new into the world. Something that will require a major sacrifice. Something that will be an extension of both of you and yet a unique blessing for the world.

This is what God wants to do with us in the Eucharist. He wants us to be open to something new. Something that requires self-sacrifice. Something that is an extension of Jesus and an extension of you. Something that will bless the world with a new and exciting God thing. It could be a piece of art. It could be a relationship. It could be many things. What is important is we want it. Whatever the presence of Jesus is going to do inside us we want. No matter the cost.

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