This treatise is part of a three essay series on the Holy Eucharist written by Fr. Carlos Raines.
“The Life is in The Blood”
The Meaning of the Holy Eucharist
As Jesus Taught it in John Chapter 6
So in the last article we left Peter hoping Jesus would NEVER speak again about such horrors as “feeding on His flesh” and “drinking His blood.”
And then came the day the disciples gathered for what we call “The Last Supper.”
It had been a hard day but a very exciting week even if it had been a little frustrating lately as Peter and the rest wondered when the Master would strike the blow of liberation from the Romans and all the Jewish traitors who supported them. But maybe he carefully had put all that aside because at least tonight the ancient, familiar and comforting ritual known as Peshach; the Passover, would take place.
So the familiar words began the meal and all was going well. Yet right in the middle of the meal, having taken the bread and blessed and broken it, He said it again! “Take, eat, this is my Body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” Not again! Each horrified disciple took a bite of the bread, now become His “flesh” that was being passed around. Then, as if it could not get any worse, the third cup; the cup of Redemption---- “Drink this all of you! For this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of Me.” And they did it. They drank it. It must have been just pure obedience on their part. How could they possibly understand! The deep emotional reaction must have made it all the more searingly memorable; as searingly memorable as those terrible words when Jesus taught the crowd :”Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.”
Yet none of it made any sense at all until He drank the fourth and last cup---but not in the upper room; He mysteriously never finished the meal properly. He did not end the meal with the fourth cup. Instead, He drank the fourth cup through a sponge held up on a pole cut from a hyssop bush...and THEN He said, “It is finished.” Everything was finished. Sins were forgiven, hell was about to be defeated, death undone. But also the meal was finished and the disciples at last understood. He Himself was the paschal Lamb. His flesh would forever be the “food for the journey” to eternal life. And His blood? Once they understood that the Son of Man was also the Son of God then they remembered an old core Jewish belief “you must NOT eat the blood” and the reason for that rule: “for the life is in the blood.” “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. “ Genesis 9:4
10 “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. Leviticus 17
What was in that blood they drank at the Last Supper? It was God’s life. His eternal life was in the blood. They were forbidden to drink the earthly life of animals as a type so that they would one day understand that His life in the blood of the Holy Eucharist would sustain them; would be “the medicine of immortality” would be “abiding in Him” (john 6). In fact they realized that the Christian service with word and Sacrament would fulfill the two ways of abiding in Him: abiding in His words and abiding in the bread and the cup, the body and blood of Jesus. Thus they would never be left abandoned nor forsaken. He would be with them always. Every time they obeyed the command to “do this.” Do what? Do what He did, say what He said and eat and drink His life, His Real Presence in the bread and the cup. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.!”
This interpretation of the Gospels, this obedience to His last command, this intimate communion with divine, eternal Life, was the experience of the Church until the Age of Enlightenment when some, thinking themselves enlightened and being suspicious of anything mysterious, proclaimed this all as superstition and “Catholic” and sought to change the meaning of John Chapter 6 to some kind of metaphorical understanding. But Jesus clearly did not leave any room at all for some kind of “metaphorical” meaning. He insisted in a sacramental meaning. He risked losing all of His disciples over this teaching. In actual fact, He lost “many” and even wondered if any of the 12 would leave Him.
His early disciples; the church founded by Jesus and His apostles; the church of Ignatius of Antioch; the church of over 1000 years never saw it any other way but sacramental. They remembered with great devotion and love---the fathers ate the old manna and died; those who eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood will live forever; will have eternal life.