We have just celebrated, according to the liturgical calendar of many Christian churches, Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Anglo-French word for “Mandate” or “Command,” and the biblical passage from where it comes is John 13:34-35. It was the night of the Jewish Passover and the last supper Jesus was to have with His disciples, after He said the customary Jewish blessing, He broke the bread and gave it to them to eat and partake of and then did something similar with a cup of wine and gave it to them to drink with the words “This is My body” and “This is My blood.” He gave them this instructions “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The intentions seem to be that Jesus desired that His disciples, then and now, would celebrate these same acts “often” in remembrance of Him and of His sacrifice for the salvation of all. He then gave them what Jesus called “a new commandment,” “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35 ). This is what we celebrate and are reminded of on Maundy Thursday.
Different church groups, though we all hold together to the one faith and the important basics of the sound doctrine the Bible teaches, approach the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion differently from one another. I would like to share in this blog how the Anglican Church normally understands what we call the Real Presence of Christ in the bread/body and the wine/blood in the Eucharist.
Neither do we, Anglicans, believe in transubstantiation (that the substance of the bread and the wine literally become flesh and blood), nor what has been called consubstantiation (that the substances are commingled so that what we receive is literally a combination of flesh/bread and blood/wine). On the other end we also do not adhere to the Eucharist simply being a memorial (a celebration and remembrance of a past event). We, Anglicans, adhere to The Real Presence. We do not try to explain away what is clearly a “mystery” but we do affirm without any doubt that Christ is indeed present for us in the Eucharist and that we who receive the bread and the wine are indeed receiving Jesus Christ in the bread and the wine.
When we read the New Testament and in particular those passages which inform and teach us on the Eucharist, one of the first things we need to acknowledge is that Jesus was the One who instituted the Eucharist, or Communion or Lord’s Supper during the last evening He spent with His disciples before the crucifixion, but in actuality He never fully explained what He meant by it.
However, it takes the Apostle Paul to explain the meaning and significance of the Eucharist instituted by Jesus. It is St. Paul who makes clear for the Church the connection between Passover, the Jewish Sacrificial system, Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and the Eucharist. Our understanding of the Cross and of the Eucharist is all Pauline. The institution of the Eucharist by Jesus is found in almost all of the Gospels, Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:19-20. Some also see in John 6:32-58 a reference to the Eucharist, although this is not necessarily so. It is in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians where the Apostle clearly develops our understanding of the Eucharistic meal, and in particular in chapters 10:16 and 11:23-33. It is to that passage that I want to draw your attention as we discuss our Anglican understanding of the Eucharist.
First, it is clear that in the Eucharist we REMEMBER. We remember what our Lord Jesus Christ did on Maundy Thursday at the Last Supper and even more so what He actually did on Good Friday on the Cross. May we never ever, ever forget for here is the basis of our eternal salvation. Secondly, the Eucharist is clearly a worship service of PROCLAMATION for all and to all. We proclaim that Jesus died for us, that in His death our sins were paid for (atoned), that Jesus saves from eternal death, that we have been reconciled with God the Father through the death of the Son. May all hear with clarity that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer and Lord and Christ and that there is no salvation or removal of sins other than in Him and through His sacrifice. Thirdly, it is equally clear that when we receive the bread and the wine we are indeed receiving the Body and the Blood of Jesus our Lord and this not just symbolically but in actuality by some “mystery.” This is where the teaching of the REAL PRESENCE finds its basis. The words of Paul in this passage indicate to us that there is a “worthy” and an “unworthy” manner of receiving the Eucharist. If received “unworthily”, the “guilt” of Jesus’ death and “judgment” is laid upon such a person. Much more can be said about these two conditions. But even more to our point, the Apostle indicates that those who receive the Eucharist in an “unworthy manner” somehow do not receive the blessings that flow from it and therefore “many are weak and sick and even have died.” What is this blessing, or presence in the Eucharist, that leads to “strength”, “healing” and “life” for those who receive it in a “worthy manner?” What is there “in” the Eucharist itself? In accordance with our Anglican heritage we affirm the “mystery” which we do not try to explain. If we do, it would cease to be a “divine mystery.” Jesus Christ is PRESENT in the bread and the wine. We believe from the passage above and from the words of Jesus Himself that it is indeed His Body and His Blood that we receive in the Eucharist.
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