Questioning our Worship (Part VIII): “C’mon, is the Bread really the Body of Christ?”

This is part 8 of a 10-part series.

Over the years as I have had an ongoing conversation with Isabella, my seven year old daughter who is a budding theologian, about what is going on in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, particularly in “the service of the table,” the communion service.

After all, Bella and I wonder, what is going on with the bread? Why do we call it “the Body of Christ?”

One way we have discussed this, which has been particularly fruitful and enjoyable, is in terms of the “three givings or gifts of the Eucharist.”

First God gives to us, the human race also known as “Adam,” the good gifts of grain and grape, and this is the first “giving,” the first gift, the gift of creation.

Now grain and grape are good, but God has asked us (see Gen 1:28-30) to take them, and to make them even better, to transfigure them, bringing them “from glory to glory.” And so, we, human beings created in God’s image, take the grain and the grape, and we transfigure them into bread and wine. In obedience to God, we (“Adam”) cultivate the earth.

Now, in the Eucharist, what do we do with this bread and wine? We don’t eat and drink it, at least not yet. What we do is we give it back to God. Think about all the language of “offering” in the Communion service: “… these, thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee …”; “… and here we offer and present unto thee …” This language of “offering” brings out the oblationary aspect of the Eucharist.

And this is the second giving, the second gift. God receives our gift and then, what does he do with it?

Now, bread and wine are good. But God takes these gifts, he transfigures them, bringing them to a better state of glory, and now they “become” something even better: the body and blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Now, keep in mind that, historically, there are three different senses of “body of Christ.” There is 1) the “typological body” (the soma typicon) which was “literally” nailed to a cross and “literally” buried in the grave, etc. Then there is 2) the “true body” (corpus verum) which is the Church, the living members of the Body of Christ. Finally there is 3) the “mystical body” (corpus mysticum) of the consecrated bread of the Eucharistic Rite.

Is this consecrated bread “really” the body of Christ? It is, indeed. It is his body because is it ritually connected to his “typical body” and to his “true body” the Church, the “living stones” gathered at the feast. Because of the first two “bodies of Christ,” the bread is more than just bread. It is a sacrament of the whole world, already but not yet transfigured and transformed into the very life, the very body, of Christ.

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This is a really awesome explanation of what we mean by The bread of heaven. I know we talked some the other Sunday about whether we should have credo- communion or not- and at first I believed that children should have some understanding of what is happening but now I am not sure that it denegrates the offering at all by not understanding this “mystery”. I had been trying to teach my daughter about what the bread means and how important this is- then one Sunday at the altar rail the ciborium passed by and my daughter said “look dad I can see myself” as she looked in the reflection- on this day my daughter taught me something because the Eucharistic meal doesnt stop at the rail – indeed we are charged to go out and do the work you were given to do- as a reflection of Christ.

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Thank you, Matt. This is helpful inspiration for preaching this Holy Week.

Todd, I totally agree! There is so reason biblically or theologically to keep baptized infants from participating fully in the life of God’s covenant people! On the contrary they belong fully!

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