At the Last Supper, Jesus said, “‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26: 26-28 ESV)
Further, in the Prayer of Humble Access, we pray every week, “…grant us therefore, gracious Lord, to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood…” (Book of Common Prayer).
These words, on the surface, are disturbing: are we cannibals? Not only is the notion intrinsically horrifying, it seemingly defies common sense: do we really believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord?
In trying to make sense of this, it occurred to me that CS Lewis points out in his book Mere Christianity that there are two types of life found in the human being. There is the physical life, which he refers to with the Greek word Bios, and the spiritual life, or Zoe. Humans differ from both animals, which are physical beings, and angels, which are spiritual beings, by being hybrids: we have both physical and spiritual life. For whatever reason, bios, or physical life, depends on consuming other forms of physical life in order to survive and flourish. Animals must eat plants and/or other animals. Plants absorb nutrients in the soil from the decayed remains of other plants and animals that came before. The bios part of our life depends on the regular sacrifice of other physical life. Is it a great surprise, then, that our zoe life might depend on regularly consuming other zoe? There is no spiritual life apart from God. Jesus has offered Himself to us as a willing sacrifice, and our partaking of the bread and wine in the Eucharist provides a physical vehicle for us to consume God Himself, thus further nourishing our zoe life.
If this take on the Eucharist helps you with this
mystery, wonderful, but if it doesn’t, I would again refer to Lewis: “The
command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer).
Reflection by Jeanette Koenig