During a Bible Study several months ago, we were discussing communion. So we talked a bit about the fact that we in the UCC believe that the bread and the cup are symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood, and Catholics believe in what is known as transubstantiation, that in the act of sharing the “last Supper”, the bread and the wine/grape-juice are actually changed into Jesus real body and blood. Someone asked me where that idea came from. I said I believe it comes from a passage in the 6th chapter of John, where Jesus says,
This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So, 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" – John 6:56-60
But I also said, “Spoiler alert: Jesus said a lot of things that he never meant to be taken literally. Jesus liked to use metaphors. When Jesus was talking about big ideas, he'd use a metaphor to help get you thinking about what he was trying to teach, so your mind would work on it, dissect it, and hopefully, eventually begin to integrate it into your life. But if you had tunnel vision, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, and even his disciples sometimes, his use of a metaphor could make you feel like his teaching was as clear as mud.”
I respect Catholic beliefs, because I respect the people that hold them, and honor their right to hold onto to what they believe is truth. However, I am grateful that in the UCC, we understand Jesus’ teaching as metaphorical. We’re pretty clear that the exhortation to eat his flesh and drink his blood was not a literal invitation for his followers to become cannibalistic. Nor do we believe that God must somehow “transubstantiate” bread and wine into Jesus body and blood so we can participate in full and abundant life Christ came to give all people. We believe that teaching was an invitation to take part in the day-to-day struggle that Jesus put himself through—to not simply be an observer, to not be a commentator, or interpreter, but to really invest ourselves in the same way he invested himself. To live as he lived, speaking the truth to power (and being willing to suffer the consequences of that action), welcoming the outcast, accepting the stranger, forgiving the sinner, loving all.
God doesn’t call us to do God’s work, to be a part of God’s community/Kingdom for our sake, but for God’s sake, and for the sake of the world. And because we human beings can often be self-centered and self-serving types, that’s a hard lesson to hear, a hard one to understand, a difficult invitation to accept. Even when it’s given to us in a metaphor!
Blessings and peace,
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. - Matthew 16:24-25