One of the things that really saddens me is how things that are supposed to unite the church tend to separate believers. For example, Paul said that we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” in appealing to the unity of the Body of Christ, and denominations heartily disagree on baptism.
Another issue on which the church has disagreed for some time has been the subject of the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. We talked about this last month, but since this passage has been used by the Catholic church and others to present their views, we need to examine it further.
There are three main views on the Lord’s Supper, and they all center on one question: “What happens to the bread and wine during the ceremony?” Transubstantiation (per the Catholic Church) holds that the elements literally become the body and blood of Jesus, and that he’s crucified and offered again and again every time believers hold Communion. It still looks like bread, smells like bread, tastes like bread, but it’s physically changed into his body. Consubstantiation, as I understand it (as held by Presbyterians and others) means that the substance of the body and blood are alongside the bread and wine, but the bread and wine are not really changed. Traditionally Southern Baptists hold to a memorial view, which means that the elements are merely symbolic. They don’t have any more meaning that we don’t give them.
I agree that the elements don’t physically or spiritually change, but to call it a memorial sounds somewhat cold. When we partake in the Lord’s Supper, it “tunes us into” his presence like few other things, or maybe like nothing else. It focuses us on him, on what he did for us, on what he’s doing for us now, and what he will do for us. It helps us strengthen our faith and draws us to him in worship. It’s not the elements that change, but us.
Why do I bring all this up now? Because this is one of the main passages that Transubstantiatists try to use to justify their position. Jesus said that unless you “eat [his] flesh. . . and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” First, it'd be fairly odd that Jesus would be referring to a ceremony and rite which was not even instituted yet. Second, if you contend that he’s referring to Communion, then this means that everyone who goes through this ritual is saved just by doing this. He says in vs. 56 that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”
So what is he talking about here? How do we “eat [his] flesh and drink [his] blood”? How do you take Jesus’ life into yourself? By faith, by trusting in him. It’s pretty obvious from the seven times that the word “believe” or some variant is used in this chapter, and how it’s repeatedly linked with eternal life. The eating and drinking metaphors are equivalent to believing in him and coming to him in faith.
But let’s not let the controversy about this distract us from the main purpose of all this is: For Jesus to give us life, his life. When we trust in him, he enters us and gives us himself. He nourishes us and regenerates us. Have you been experiencing this life to the fullest, in the way he wants you to? Neither have I.
Lord Jesus, you are my life, and I have no other. Everything you have for me, I want. Whatever it is that’s keeping me from living your life to the fullest, please take it away.