Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, April 1, 2010
[ Maundy Thursday in the Christian Kalendar ]
Take and Eat. This is my body, given for you
Do this that I might be with you.
This is my blood of the new covenant, shed
for you and for all people. Drink this, that
I might be among you.
Jesus of Galilee
What an extraordinary thing to record anyone saying! The first record of it, and the closest to the time of Jesus’ earthly life, is from Paul the Apostle, writing the first letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul says that “the Master” gave him “his instructions” about this meal directly – though he never says that anywhere else. He tells them that this shared meal is centrally important; that Jesus associated the bread with His Body and the wine with His Blood; that when they eat the bread and drink the cup, they “reenact in [their] words and actions the death of the Master”; that they will be drawn back again and again to this meal until the Master returns; and that they must always be deeply reverent.
Of course there are countless similar instances in World religions (and cultures) where people eat flesh or blood of an animal (or other humans) in order to take in their life-spirit or energy. Where people eat a meal or drink wine to “ingest” the spirit of deities. Even where flesh and wine is symbolically offered to God to “eat” and so receive the offered life of the worshipper (Temple Judaism, and many other religions.)
There is evidence in the Bible that some of Jesus’ followers found such language “too hard”. Crazy maybe? One early Christian writer had to defend the Christian Eucharist (the shared meal) against the charge of cannibalism – a charge that was later to be bolstered by the adoption by the pre-Reformation Western Church of the doctrine of transubstantiation.
Bread and Wine: at the Passover they were signs of freedom and new Life for the Jews liberated from slavery. Jesus was saying: I am Freedom. I am Life. I am the Path to your true Home. Unite with me; intermingle your flesh and blood with Me; in me, unite with God. Here is your identity.
“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you cannot have Life within you.” That is the Mystery we ponder on Maundy Thursday. On some level, it connects with the imagination of every human being - who we are and how we sustain it.