You’d expect an Episcopal priest who walks the hallowed halls of the venerable House of Deputies dressed like this to have a fairly low Eucharistic theology.
And you would be right. My dear friend and colleague Evan Garner was picked up by the Christian Century yesterday for his post entitled, “Really Real Flesh?” in which he made it clear that he does not subscribe to a Eucharistic theology that worries about molecular changes in bread and wine into the DNA of a first century Jew named Jesus.* It is a good read, and he even looks into the Greek, so you should take a minute and read it. Here’s the link again.
Evan admits, right at the end, that we do need to deal with what Jesus means when he says, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” but he stops short of actually dealing with it. He does dive into this subject a bit in today’s part two, “Eat Me!” but while I was waiting, I got to thinking, what does Jesus mean when he invites the crowd to eat his flesh and drink his blood? And while Evan would point us beyond the Eucharistic Table to find our meaning, even in my very low churchmanship, I can’t help but be drawn right to our central act of worship, a communal meal of bread and wine.
We find these disturbing words in the midst of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Here he is dealing with the grumblings of the Jewish leadership over his intentionally provocative language. We also read these words in John’s Gospel, which is a vitally important thing to remember. John’s Gospel doesn’t include the story of the Last Supper, which means there is no institution of the Eucharist. However, we know from the Acts of the Apostles and from Paul’s writings that breaking bread in accordance with Jesus’ command was an integral part of the community of faith that followed in his Way.
So how does John highlight the importance of the dominical Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he lifts up this discourse and makes sure we get the notion that Jesus thought that regularly partaking in a communal meal of bread and wine that symbolized his body and blood was really, really important. The language is harsh. It caused and continues to cause all sorts of misunderstandings and bad theology, but that doesn’t take away from the intent: to bring the faithful together as companions (literally, yes I mean literally, those with whom we break bread) along the way.
I will happily agree with Evan that Jesus probably didn’t only mean the Eucharistic celebration in this discourse. We break bread with fellow disciples in many different ways: from the opening of Scripture to sitting down for coffee; but the Eucharist most certainly has to be included, and I would even list it as the most important understanding of Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse.
* It has been brought to my attention that this is an unfair representation of the high church Eucharistic position, which it is. It is a hyperbolic caricature of the doctrine of transubstantiation which with its nuanced treatment of words like substance and species is nearly incomprehensible to the average churchgoer. So, if it gets your hackles up, relax and know I love my Anglo-Catholic sisters and brothers, even if I’m a Real Partaker at heart.