Tonight we recall how, on the night before his death, our Lord chose to eat a meal with his disciples. It was not an ordinary meal. It probably would have looked ordinary to the uninitiated: bread and wine, yet we know that the bread was his body and the wine was his blood. We know this because he said so, and he is the truth, and he cannot lie. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you.”
In the ancient law, the father of each family had to provide a lamb. This lamb was killed, and it became a sacrifice which prevented the angel of death from striking within that house. Under the new law, our Father in heaven has provided a lamb, the Lamb of God. If a family was not big enough for one lamb, two families came together and shared a lamb. The Lamb of God is sufficient for the whole world. This Lamb became a sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world. Because this Lamb still lives, even though he died, we will never need another. We are marked by the blood of this lamb, so death can pass over us. There is no reason to fear death so long as we have participated in this sacrifice. By this sacrifice we join in the death of Jesus Christ, so we have a sure hope of joining in his Resurrection.
Jesus is the Lamb of God, but this sacrifice was different than the sacrifice of the lambs. Soon after the meal, the disciples saw Jesus give his body and blood for the whole world. The lambs were eaten after they were killed, but Jesus was not constrained by time. Even before the sacrifice, he was able to present his body and blood. The body and blood that he presented to them is clearly the body and blood that he offered the next day; it is clearly the body and blood that rose from the dead on Easter. It is his Body and Blood. This bread and this cup are a participation in the death of Christ, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Jesus is the Lamb of God, but this sacrifice was different than the sacrifice of the lambs. The Israelites ate the body of the lamb, but they did not drink the blood. God had said that the blood of an animal is the life of that animal, so he forbid them from drinking blood. The life of an animal belonged to God, so the blood was poured out on the altar. In this sacrifice, we drink the blood because the life of Christ was poured out for us. The lifeblood of Christ belongs to us, since he has given it to us. Some of the lambs’ blood was used to mark the doorway as a symbol that the angel of death should pass over that house. So now we drink the blood of the Lamb of God so that this blood will mark our souls.
“A person should examine themself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup, for anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on themself.” What we receive is not ordinary food. It is a real symbol, which is to say that it actually is what it symbolizes. It symbolizes the Body of Jesus Christ, so it actually is the Body of Jesus Christ. It symbolizes the Blood of Jesus Christ, so it actually is the Blood of Jesus Christ. By eating and drinking this Body and Blood, we symbolize our participation in the death of Jesus Christ, so we actually participate in his death.
Let no one be deceived and believe that it is your own thoughts or your own faith which makes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. It is only the words of Jesus: “This is my Body.” “This is the cup of my Blood.”, spoken by one who has the authority to say the words, an authority that comes from the Apostles to whom Jesus said: “Do this in memory of me.” So let us examine ourselves and not eat and drink judgment on ourselves. We must receive the Body and Blood with faith, not because our faith makes it so, but because it is so and we should only receive if we believe.
When you are invited to dinner, consider carefully before you eat because you must provide the same sort of meal yourself in return. When we sit down to this sacrificial meal, we ought to consider carefully what is set before us, since we must provide the same kind of meal ourselves. When we eat the Body of Christ, we become willing to give up our own bodies. When we drink the Blood of Christ, we become willing to shed our own blood. When we eat this body and drink this blood, we proclaim his death until he comes in glory. This is not a verbal proclamation but proclamation of action. Truly, we proclaim his death when we eat the body and drink the blood which he gave up for us through his death, but this should not be the limit of our proclamation; it should be the beginning and the end, the source and the summit.
We are what we eat. If we eat the proclamation of the death of Christ, we must become the proclamation of the death of Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and told them, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” The washing of feet is a symbol. Everything that Jesus did for us, we are called to do for our brothers. Did he serve us? Then we should serve others. Did he love us? Then we should love others. Did he forgive us? Then we should forgive others. Did he die for us? Then we should die for others. Did he give us his body and blood? Then we should give our bodies and our blood for others.
We are what we eat. If we eat the Body of Christ, we become the Body of Christ. Someone here is the hand of Christ. Someone here is the feet of Christ. Someone here is the heart of Christ, beating with love. Together we are the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ as our head. If we eat this body and drink this blood, anything we do, Christ does, since we are part of the Body of Christ. If we eat this body and drink this blood, we must act in a manner worthy of our call. If we eat this body and then sin, we have brought sin upon the Body of Christ. If we drink this blood and then hate someone, we have brought hatred into the Blood of Christ. No longer is any sin a small sin. No longer is any sin a private failing. If we have chosen to be part of the Body of Christ, we must also choose to be perfect. When we fall short of perfection, we must confess our sins and be forgiven.
Our Lord Jesus Christ borrowed from us humanity and took it to himself. Tonight he gives it back to us. If we participate in his humanity, entirely, we will be saved. His humanity is a life preserver thrown from heaven to us who are drowning. We must cling to it. There is nothing here on earth that can save us; we cannot save ourselves. We are saved not by imitation but by participation. If you try to be like Christ, you will fail. We must participate in his Body, by eating his Body and drinking his Blood. Then we will participate in the life of Christ, a life of service and self-giving. Then we can participate in the death of Christ, a perfect sacrifice. And only then can we participate in the Resurrection of Christ.