Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Body and Blood of Christ

Much of the religious experience is found in its symbols. Symbols have a special power to go beyond what words can express and have the potential to elicit spiritual growth in a way unrivaled by any other means. Paul Tillich distinguished between symbols and signs. Both signs and symbols point beyond themselves. But according to Tillich, “signs do not participate in the reality of that to which they point, while symbols do”. A sign like a red light or street sign has some meaning by simple convention and is related to its meaning as long as the convention holds. But the distinguishing characteristic of a symbol is that “it participates in that to which it points”. [1]

As symbols participate in those things to which they points, I find the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to be one of the greatest symbols of Christianity. The experience of the Sacrament is similar in many Christian religions. It is called the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Sacrament of the Table, Blessed Sacrament, and The Lord’s Supper. Since I come from the Mormon faith I will relate my experience from there. In the Mormon faith we usually call this simply The Sacrament.

Every Sunday, before participating in the Sacrament, the Priest at the table kneels and blesses the bread and water. This prayer is very interesting because it describes in detail the significance of the symbol and what it means to those who participate. The bread represents the body of Christ. The water represents the blood of Christ. The prayer also blesses the congregants who eat and drink of Christ to always remember him, keep his commandments, take his name upon themselves, and have his spirit to be with them (Doctrine and Covenants 20:77;79).

What is most striking to me with this ordinance is the way we participate and remember Christ. The bread and water (or wine) represent his body and blood. There are many ways we could use these symbols to remember Christ. We could just look at them. We could talk about them. We could pass them around and just touch them and feel them in our hands. All of these things would help us to remember the body and blood of Christ. But instead we actually consume these symbols and take them within ourselves – we eat and drink them. This is about as close a relationship to a symbol that you can get. We actually take the symbol inside of ourselves, internalizing them both physically and spiritually, literally and symbolically.

When we eat the bread and drink the water we have the flesh of Christ taken into our flesh and joined into it. His blood flows in our veins. We symbolically become one with Christ. We can take about it and write about it but actually doing it and understanding it can create a very powerful experience. The covenant is more than simple to remember him – it is to become one with him and be transformed into his image (Romans 8:29). Prior to the last supper where he introduced the Sacrament, Jesus spoke of eating his flesh and drinking his blood:

“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world... Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you... He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eatheth me, even he shall live by me.” (John 6:51-57)

Many of Jesus’ disciples were so disturbed by this teaching that they left him there saying “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60) Of course Jesus did not literally teach his disciples to eat of his physical flesh or blood. Jesus was teaching his disciples that as bread and water are the source of physical nourishment and sustenance of life, so is he the source of eternal life, the bread of life, the living water.

The body and blood of Christ are as vital and nourishing to our spirits as food and drink to our bodies. The quality of food and drink we consumes affects our physical health and countenance. Likewise, spiritual health is determined by the things we consume in our hearts. By taking in the body and blood of Christ and becoming one with Christ we are transformed to be able to see the image of Christ in our own countenance (Alma 5:14).

[1] Tillich, Paul. Dynamics of Faith. Harper & Row. 1957.

No comments:

Post a Comment