52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 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. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-74) argued that during Communion, whilst the appearance of bread and wine remain unchanged, their real essence is miraculously converted, into the body and blood of Christ, who is therefore truly present. This is known as ‘transubstantiation’. Aquinas’ ideas are still very much alive in Roman Catholic doctrine, although they were strongly rejected, by reformers such as Calvin, Luther, Zwingli and Cranmer, who thought this idea too mystical and priest-centred and preferred to focus on the dimensions of memorial and gratitude in the Lord’s Supper.
The question of what the bread and wine becomes has influenced modern history because it fuelled reformations and counter-reformations of churches which produced a steady flow of martyrs on both sides. The idea that the status of the meal of remembrance recalling the sacrifice that Christ made for us should itself become a wound in history, the scars of which are very much still with us, is ironic indeed.
The Anglican Communion service contains these words: All things come from you and of your own do we give you.’ The sacrifice of Christ and his being the bread of life are interconnected. We may not always remember what we eat, but at the Lord’s Supper, we eat what we remember. Jesus is like a substance of simplicity and necessity. He is a basic need, and without him, without ‘eating’ him, we starve spiritually. Without him, in fact, we also starve physically. When we eat bread, we eat physical salvation, and when we eat Communion we eat spiritual salvation.
Lord Jesus Christ, you became human and offered yourself so that we might come to know you. Be for us a real presence in our lives as you feed us spiritually by your Holy Spirit. Amen