Realization leads to curiosity.
Curiosity leads to questions.
Questions lead to research.
This post is a continuation of One Prayer, One Answer…
One quote from St. Justin Martyr wasn’t enough to convince me that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the bread and wine of communion. It certainly made me curious; it was written only 50 years after the last book of the Bible was completed, and he is admired by many as an authentic Father of the Church. But I’m way more stubborn than that. Maybe Justin was a fanatic or an extremist. Maybe he was an outlier.
Except that he wasn’t.
There was Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons, who studied with Polycarp under the Apostle John. And there were many, many more. Click here for more quotes from the Church Fathers.
But I still wanted more proof. I thought about the Council of Nicea, where the Nicene Creed originated (A.D. 325). If all Christians claim unity through this one creed, perhaps this was the point in history when we were all on the same page. You can read it for yourself, but I found the Eucharist described as “the Body of Christ” with strict instructions about who could touch it and when. I found directives about giving this “most indispensable Viaticum” to dying people. I struggle to imagine a mere symbol carrying such passionate language and expectations. I knew I certainly wasn’t treating communion as “most indispensable” or discerning whether I should touch it. This left me wondering how it was that I accepted the creed from this council as absolute truth, but I hadn’t even been aware of the rest of the things these bishops had decided.
Up to this point I had seen writings from many names I knew nothing about. But even though I had never studied the Church Fathers, I definitely had heard of St. Augustine. My journals are covered with his quotes. What did he believe?
“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ.” (Augustine, Sermons 272, [A.D. 411]).
“The Lord Jesus wanted those whose eyes were held lest they should recognize him, to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread [Luke 24:16,30-35]. The faithful know what I am saying. They know Christ in the breaking of the bread. For not all bread, but only that which receives the blessing of Christ, becomes Christ’s body.” (Augustine, Sermons 234:2)
“That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins.” (Augustine, Sermons 227)
I could go on, listing quotes from various theologians and councils covering thousands of years, but I still wondered if there was a piece missing. I knew from high school history classes that Martin Luther had formally protested against the Catholic Church with many claims that they had lost their way. The Reformation he started ultimately led to the churches I had attended all my life, none of which had taught the Real Presence. Surely he would explain this Eucharist concept as one of those ways the Church was lost. Except that he didn’t. In fact, it sounded as if he was frustrated with people who had followed him out of the church and weren’t taking the Eucharist seriously.
“Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that ‘my body’ is the same as ‘the sign of my body?’ or, that ‘is’ is the same as ‘it signifies?’ What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present. Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.”
—Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391
With further study, it seems Luther didn’t agree with Catholics to the full extent regarding the Eucharist, but he obviously felt Christ was really and truly present. Not in the general way that God is present everywhere, but specifically tied to the words, the bread, and the wine in this Sacrament.
Even so, I dug my heels in. Maybe because I was so busy dusting myself off from all of society’s lies that I didn’t want to believe any human being no matter how scholarly or revered they were. I was a pouting child who would listen to no one but her Heavenly Father. Because even though I was fighting it, I undeniably felt that heartbeat pulsing stronger and louder.
I cracked open my Bible to John 6:25-71. This passage is from a moment in time when Jesus had recently told a Samaritan woman that His water was more than common water – it was life eternal. It was not long after He fed the five thousand by miraculously multiplying bread and fish, sustaining the lives of an entire crowd of followers. It was when He said this…
“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.”
The first thing I noticed was that this passage was different from His typical parable style of teaching. It wasn’t filled with similes and it wasn’t in story form. The other times Jesus was very direct like this, using words such as “very truly I tell you,” it was to proclaim truth about things vital to salvation, such as baptism.
I get that it’s confusing. I understand that we find it a bit strange to think about eating flesh. So did the people that were gathered around Jesus as He said it. His own followers were grumbling, causing Him to ask, “Does this offend you?”
There are lots of examples when the people and even His own disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ words and parables. So when He realized they were confused and offended, I expected Him to correct them and explain further, as He had before. See Mark 4 for an example. Not this time. This time He let them leave and even asked his twelve disciples if they wanted to leave too. Why? Because there was nothing more to explain. He had spoken the clear truth, and they either believed or they didn’t. Their choice.
From there, so many passages from the Bible came to life for me in a way I had never seen them before. The manna, the Passover Lamb, the miracles of the loaves and fish, the Last Supper – all of them breadcrumbs God had left for us along this path to truth.
The words of Paul were especially convicting.
Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? ~1 Corinthians 10:16 (NIV)
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. ~1 Corinthians 11:27-29 (NIV)
By this point, months of research (which I can hardly cover in one blog post) had my head convinced. Jesus meant what He said when He declared, “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” But I had reached a place in my journey with God where I knew words and knowledge were not enough. He didn’t just want me to say it, He wanted me to live it. He was after my heart.
There was still only one reason to keep trying to understand. Jesus.
My Savior was looking me in the eyes saying, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
I wasn’t ready to answer Him.
But the heartbeat was still pounding in the background, even louder now, consistently urging me forward.
To be continued…