“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53–55)
Recently, a colleague was telling me about his first experience on his road to the seminary, when her took a college course in philosophy. He told me that the very first assignment the class was given to the students was to write a paper explaining “how they knew that the reality they experienced was Real.” After receiving a “D” on that first paper, he said it was only by the grace of God that he continued on and became a pastor.
How do we know what is Real? It is an important question that underlies everything we experience in our day-to-day life. The question is perhaps even more significant when we are dealing with the spiritual realities of “all that is seen and unseen.”
I am reminded of this when I consider the questions that are often asked about the sacrament of Holy Communion. People not only want to know what we believe, but why we believe it. Some put it even more bluntly when they ask: “How in the world can you believe that?”
Long ago, many of the people who experienced Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5000 seemed to ask this same question of our Lord. In John, Chapter 6, Jesus engaged the crowds who were following him (as he said), “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). He knew that their minds were hovering on a surface level, thinking only about the next meal that Jesus could provide for them. They had no thought for what the deeper meaning in all of this may have been, or the One to whom they were speaking.
But Jesus was pointing them away from the things of this world and drawing their attention to himself. Unlike the manna that the Israelites had received from God in the wilderness that melted away in the heat of each day and could not be stored up (Exodus 16:21), Jesus spoke of himself as the true Bread from Heaven. Jesus then said to them,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world… I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:32-35)
Ironically, there are many Christians who treat the Lord’s Supper as if it were just something we remember from the past. There are many for whom Holy Communion is nothing more than quaint ceremony, where they think back to something Jesus did long ago by engaging in a sort of “reenactment” to visually spark a memory of an event they never saw. They may believe in something Jesus did, but they do not believe Jesus is doing anything in the here and now. They deny that the Body and Blood of Christ are his “means of grace” — or that by our participation in the Lord’s Supper we actually receive the forgiveness of God.
But the truth is, there is more going on in faith than just what we ourselves subjectively imagine to be Real — something that goes beyond what we may merely think or feel or perceive. True Reality is established by God himself!
Just as in the beginning God said “Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3), we who are believers know that it is God’s Word that establishes reality. And as followers of Christ, we know this Word has a name. We know that “in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the Word of his power” (Hebrews 1:1–3).
With the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as the foundation of our faith, it makes perfect sense that we would take Jesus at his word when he says of the bread and wine in Communion, “this is my body … this is my blood …” We believe when our Lord tells us that his blood of the covenant has been poured out “for the forgiveness of sins.” Because of his promise, we trust that something Real is happening. God is doing what he says he is doing. But not only that, he makes it clear that what he is doing is “for you.”
In this column, I have written many articles on the theme of Sacramental Discipleship, explaining how, as followers of Christ, God uses us as his means of grace to reach out to the world. Part of understanding the sacramental nature of our discipleship is to recognize that God is actually present and active in the world through us. Paul is right when he says, “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:1).
To say that we are the Body of Christ in the world is more than just a metaphor to contemplate. It is a statement of what is Real, just as he is Real. Our God is a real living entity with whom we interact and have a sacred relationship. It is because this Real God actually does things in the world and in our lives, that you and I have been made his people of faith by the power of his Word.
In this same way, we recognize that Holy Communion is the sure and certain Word of Christ — the new testament of a living God whose objective truth actually makes a difference in our lives. Contrary to what the unbelievers may think, God’s promises are not just some old sentimental poetry we recite to make ourselves feel better; his promises are the divine means by which we receive his grace and mercy. The cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ! The bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ! These things are real, and they set us apart as people who belong to him.
Holy Communion is more than just a reminder of God’s presence in our lives, it is the actual intrusion and intervention of the Living Christ who come to us to take hold of our lives and make us his own. Because of what he has done — and continues to do for us again and again — by means of his Word, we can be “sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is what’s Real.
— Pastor Steven E. King