Holding the body and blood of Jesus in my hand felt different yesterday. Surely these elements took on new significance because our pastor’s entire sermon was about the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples the night before His death, that meal in which he gives new meaning to the bread of affliction and the third cup of Passover. The same meal in which he dips bread with a terrorist.
But there was something else going on. As usual, when I received my little cracker and cup of juice, I tried to use all my senses to receive the body and blood of my Lord. I rolled the cracker in my hand, feeling its chalkiness, watching as the powder came off in my fingers. It was flat, matte even, and dry, dry, dry.
But as I brought the cup to my face and smelled the sweet juice, as I held it up to the light and swished it from side to side, I noticed something new there, something I hadn’t noticed before. The juice in the cup reflected the light, creating the same life glint you see in the eyes of every living person.
When I was in high school and taking an art class, we learned to draw portraits. But before we put the whole face together, we drew the parts. Lips, noses, ears, eyes. We each modeled for the class, watching other students interpret according to their skills.
By the time we started putting all the parts together, I was amazed how a portrait could look so flat, so two-dimension, until suddenly the artist drew the life in the eyes, the little white patch on the corner reflecting light. Then, those eyes glimmered and sparkled, and it wasn’t too hard to see the actual living person emerge from the portrait.
As I held the cup in my hand on Sunday, I saw the reflections of life all through that juice. The bread was flat, dead. But the cup was alive.
In Leviticus 17, the Lord speaks about the life of blood in the dietary restrictions he places on Israel.
Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”
To this day, many Jews do not eat the blood of animals, even requiring special food processing guidelines to avoid it.
The Torah prohibits consumption of blood. Lev. 7:26-27; Lev. 17:10-14. This is the only dietary law that has a reason specified in Torah: we do not eat blood because the life of the animal (literally, the soul of the animal) is contained in the blood. This applies only to the blood of birds and mammals, not to fish blood. Thus, it is necessary to remove all blood from the flesh of kosher animals. from Kashrut on Judaism 101
Yet there I was, holding the blood of Christ in my hand, the life of Christ glinting and sparkling in the auditorium lighting, and as the pastor quoted those famous words, “This is my blood,” I drank it down to the dregs. The very life of God entering into the very life of me.
Because that’s the point. This meal we share in community, this meal believers have been eating together since that Last Supper, it’s not just to make the hunger go away. It’s about making death go away. Each time we eat the flesh and blood of our Savior, we rehearse the reality that His life is now my life. And I will live with him forever.
Jesus knew it was a hard teaching. After a particularly pointed sermon on the matter, when he said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” many followers deserted. They followed Kashrut, afterall. They wouldn’t even eat the blood of a goat, much less a man.
After many had turned away, Jesus asked the Twelve, “ “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)
The Holy One of God, the life giver, the one who poured out his own blood that we might be saved.
He became man and lived in this world. He ate and drank, and this means that the world of which he partook, the very food of our world became his body, his life. But His life was totally, absolutely Eucharistic–all of it was transformed into communion with God and all of it ascended into heaven. And now he shares this glorified life with us. “What I have done alone–I give it now to you: take, eat . . .” from “The Eucharist” by Alexander Schmemann in The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God
As the meal ended, I wiped the dust of the bread on my pants and deposited the little cup in the holder of the seat in front of me. We sang, took an offering, received the benediction.
And I left full.
I am writing today in community with my friends at thehighcalling.org. We are working our way through the book, The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. This week, we considered essays 25-27, in a section called “At the Table of the Lord.” Click on the button above to see what others are writing. Then, pick up the book yourself and join us for next Monday’s discussion.