Moment in the Word

Acts 20:7 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. 
In Justin Martyr's "First Apology," the Holy Eucharist is explained (circa 153-155 A.D.) during the Early Church's Apostolic Period:
"And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.
"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh – (First Apology, 66)."
Currently, the same ancient doctrine of the "Sacrament of Sacraments" is preserved in the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church ...
Accordingly, Jesus said of Himself, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (Jn 6.51)."
Thus, Christ made a direct connection (not merely symbolic) between His Body and the Heavenly Bread! His doctrine memorialized the "Manna" that Israel received in the Wilderness which sustained them during their wanderings. Oddly enough, while enjoying God's miraculous provision, the people had absolutely no idea what they were eating and thus, named it "Manna" (i.e., "What is it?") The same confused uncertainty might be true for many followers of Jesus today!
Contradicting the doctrine of the Early Church during the Apostolic Period, many currently say that the Eucharistic Host is only bread and the Eucharistic Cup is merely wine, "symbolizing" Christ. However, in the context of Holy Scripture, Jesus' words were starkly literal rather than symbolic!
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven ... and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6.51)." Paraphrasing, He said, "I am the Bread, and the Bread is Me!"
Similarly, Jesus taught, "For My flesh is real food, and My blood is real drink (John 6;55)." The word He chose to describe His flesh and blood (in comparison to food and drink) was "real," not "symbolic."
In another place, the Bible says, "Now as they were eating, Jesus, having taken bread and having blessed it, broke it, and having given it to the disciples, He said, 'Take, eat; this is My body (Matthew26:26).'" Please note that His statement about the Eucharistic Bread was emphatically literal, "THIS IS MY BODY!"
Regarding the Eucharistic Cup, we hear Jesus say, "THIS IS MY BLOOD, and with it God makes his agreement with you. It will be poured out, so that many people will have their sins forgiven (Matthew 26:28)."
Never in Christ's conversation does He suggest any type of symbolism while connecting the Sacramental Elements to His Body and Blood. His association is ALWAYS literal as evidenced by St. Paul's admonition to communicants for properly receiving the Eucharist.
Here is the Apostle's warning, "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body (1 Corinthians 11:29)." So, according to Paul, people who fail to recognize (discern) the Lord's Body in the Eucharistic Elements are in danger of God's wrath, signifying that the bread and wine are much more than merely bread and wine! They are literally recognized (discerned) as the Lord's Body and Blood, just as Jesus adamantly taught.
Today's doctrine of "symbolism" has only arisen in the last 500 years, contrary to the teaching of Jesus, St. Paul, and the Early Church during the Apostolic Period, as evidenced by the explanation of Justin Martyr. Akin to ancient Israel calling the Heavenly Bread "Manna," maybe we should take a fresh look at the Eucharist to answer the nagging question, "What is it ... literal or symbolic?"
Edwin Woolsey is a native of Mountain View. He is a retired public educator of 31 years, and a pastor for nearly that long. Woolsey is the author of The Chronicler series and a father of three.
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