Body and Blood (Matthew 26)
1. This morning, our meditation on the catechism takes up the question, "What is the Sacrament of the Altar?" You ask this question to just about any group of professing Christians and you're likely to get AT LEAST four answers. Some will say it is the mystical changing of bread and wine into the Christ's Body and Blood. Some will say it is Jesus' Body and Blood given only to those who believe it is; others just get bread and wine. Still others will say that it is simply a memorial of Jesus' sacrifice. And a growing number of Christians will tell you that it's nothing important and doesn't need to be celebrated. But what does the Bible say? The same thing the catechism says. After all, the catechism took it straight from the Bible: "It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink."
2. First in the definition of the Sacrament is, "It is the true body ... of our Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus says this Himself, "Take, eat, this is My body" (v26). Jesus says this at the very end of the Passover ceremony. At the point where the oldest member of the family would eat the last morsel of the Passover lamb, Jesus decides to do something new. Jesus takes a piece of the unleavened bread at the table. He blessed it. He broke it. Then He gave it to the disciples. He distributed it to them just as the lamb had been broken and distributed earlier. He said, "This is My Body." In early Greek writers, the word Jesus uses refers to a dead body. Jesus, once again, was predicting His imminent death to His disciples. Jesus would die and He would die so that His body could be given to His followers for life. The Passover Lamb being left unfinished on the table was not the only substitution being made that weekend. Jesus was announcing to His disciples that He is the true Passover lamb. He would be sacrificed and die so that we might have everlasting life. The disciples were expecting the Passover to be done until next year. But Jesus wanted them to see that the true Passover was nowhere near finished. He wanted them to see that the true Passover is an everlasting meal--a meal that will not be finished even when we celebrate it in Heaven. An everlasting meal that brings us everlasting life.
3. That life comes from the second element, "It is the true ... blood of our Lord Jesus Christ." Mankind has been forbidden from eating blood because God said, "you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4). This command, given to Noah when he first received permission to eat meat, shows that blood is a precious thing. It is the very life force of every living being. That's what makes Jesus' statement so wonderful. But, is Jesus overruling the Father with this statement? No. In fact, He's giving the reason why man has been forbidden from eating blood. Blood was set aside as holy and only for service to God. And this is the service to God--Jesus gives His life force to His disciples. The everlasting life that He has promised to those who believe in Him (John 3:16) sits in the cup at the table. His Blood, shed on the Cross, is poured out as a life-giving stream from the temple of His dead body (Ezekiel 47:1-12; John 19:33-34).
4. This He can do because He says, "This is My blood of the covenant". The covenant being established here is the eternal Passover which Jesus became incarnate to be. There are two things I want you to see in this text and take special notice. First, Jesus is very particular about what He says and how He says it. Holding up the bread, He says, "This is My body." Holding up the cup, He says, "This is My blood of the covenant. This--what I'm holding in My hands--IS what I say it is. It isn't a representation. It isn't a joke. It isn't a metaphor. It's what I say it is. 'Is' means 'is'". The only representation going on in the Sacrament is that we as those gathering at the altar are representatives of the one holy, Christian and apostolic Church on earth. Second, look at the words again: "This is My blood, which is poured out..." What tense is the verb? Present tense. This isn't what our Catholic friends hear when the Mass is done. They hear, "This is the cup of My blood ... it will be shed for you and for all men." Why do they make it future? Because they're trying to understand exactly what Jesus is doing here in the institution. How can Jesus, having not died yet, give His body and blood to the disciples? He hasn't been sacrificed yet! It doesn't make sense. You're right, but that's where we get into trouble. That's why there are so many different denominations out there. Everyone's trying to explain different things in the Bible that have been left as mysteries. Not everyone agrees. Therefore there are divisions. We don't understand how Jesus can give His body and blood BEFORE He dies on the Cross, but who do you trust more: your own understanding or Jesus' own words? I'll stick with Jesus' words. He's in a better position to explain ... and when He's good and ready I'm sure He will. Until then, we simply take His words as they stand.
5. Even though Jesus doesn't tell us how this happens, He tells us why He gives His body and blood. He gave these gifts "for us Christians to eat and to drink" (SC VI,1). St. Paul tells the Corinthians what Jesus was doing that first Maundy Thursday, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). Who can proclaim the Lord's death? Only Christians. After all, Paul says just a few verses later, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). So, let's see if we've got this straight now. In the Lord's Supper, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. We can't call Him Lord unless we have the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is only given to Christians. But the Lord's Supper isn't only a proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension and return. It's also a commanded proclamation. Not only does Jesus say, "Take, eat," and "Drink of it, all of you," He also says, "Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25). It's to be an ongoing proclamation of the Church. Therefore, almost two thousand years later, we continue the practice of receiving the Lord's Supper and thus proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes again.
6. This is the Sacrament of the Altar. It is a proclamation of the death, resurrection and return of Jesus Christ for our sins. It began that way at the Last Supper. It's that way today. And it will be that way until He does return in glory. And we do it this way because He's commanded us to do it "often" and "in remembrance of Me". So I invite you to come to the altar of our Lord often and receive His body and His blood for the forgiveness of all your sins. It's not symbolic. It's the real thing. It's Jesus' forgiveness and life given for you. Amen.