Encountering Christ in the Body and the Blood – Reflection for 18 August 2019
As we consider encounters along the way in our spiritual journey, let us start with the high point of the Emmaus road story (Luke 24:13-35). As Cleopas and his friend invite the stranger who has joined them to stay and dine with them at the end of the day, Jesus is revealed to them as he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives bread. We celebrate this same miraculous revelation of the risen Christ each week in the Eucharist. Just as the revelation of Christ at the table in Emmaus is the high point of the story of Cleopas and his friend, the revelation of Christ at the Table each week is the high point of our story. All of our prayer, study, ministry, and service leads us to the Table and all of our prayer, study, ministry, and service result from our encounter with Christ at the Table.
What does it mean when we say that we encounter Christ in the Body and the Blood? Throughout the history of the Church, a great variety of worthy, faithful, and wise Christians have attempted to describe in human terms the mystery we encounter. Since this mystery is of heavenly and not human origin, all have in some way fallen short of describing the fullness of the Real Presence we encounter at the Table. Also, since the manner of our encounter is by Faith and not by our other faculties, our description should be in the terms of faith, that is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
It is in the terms of Faith that I offer these descriptions of the encounter at the Table. As the Articles of Religion describe, it is by faith that we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in a heavenly and spiritual manner. Since it is our temporal and physical bodies that walk to the Table and consume the Bread and the Wine, something must happen that allows us to at the same time partake in this heavenly and spiritual manner. Either heaven must descend to earth or earth must ascend to heaven in some way. While there are faithful ways of describing the mystery of the Eucharist from either perspective, I find that the liturgy calls us to be raised heavenward for the encounter as we lift up our hearts and join our voices to the heavenly chorus of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Indeed in the celebration of the Eucharist, the temporal and physical existence we call “real” is lifted into the eternal and heavenly realm where we encounter the One who is truly “Real.”
We may also use terms of Faith to describe how we can say that the Bread and the Wine are the Body and Blood of Christ. The words the Fathers used regarding the nature of Christ in the Incarnation may also be used to describe the nature of Christ in the Eucharist. The Bread is truly bread and truly Christ’s Body and the Wine is truly wine and truly Christ’s Blood, “without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together.”
Encountering Christ in the Body and the Blood Despite the inadequacy of any attempt to articulate the mystery of the Eucharist, we can be confident that by Faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we indeed encounter the risen Christ at the Table. In this encounter, as in all encounters with Christ, we “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). May our eyes be opened, and may we recognize Him.