I Cor. 11: 23f John 6: 55f
"He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him."
In 1549, the time when the Church of England was introducing liturgy in the vernacular, well that is the vernacular for most of England, the order for the Lord’s Supper was printed under the title "The Order for Holy Communion, Commonly called the Mass." A new emphasis was placed upon communion with the Lord’s Body, that is, placed upon receiving His Body and Blood. For a long time it had been commonplace for the people to commune as seldom as they needed to. This is the opposite of what St. Paul had written: "For as often as ye do eat that bread and drink that cup.. " He wrote "for as often...", not "for as seldom..." And, although the practice of infrequent communion developed all over again, the emphasis on reception of communion instead of "hearing the Mass" was a right and good thing. And, as High Churchmen, we teach and urge frequent communion, at least once a week, which was the norm of the ancient Church, and which was taught by St. Paul. From what he wrote to the Corinthian Church it is quite obvious that he expected them to be gathered on the first day of the week, and that it was supposed to be for the Lord’s Supper on every such occasion. Indeed, as I have already quoted, he said that this should be "often." It is clear that this was to be done at least every Sunday, not once or twice a month, certainly not only twice a year. From the written testimony of Justin Martyr, we know that the Church came together every Sunday, and that they did indeed celebrate the Lord’s Supper; they often ate that bread and drank that cup.
We need to understand what it means to live a life of faith as Christians. The teaching of scripture has always been that we are saved by grace through faith. Faith, if it is real, is never alone, for it lives in a trinity of virtues, "Faith, hope and charity." Without hope there is no faith, and without charity faith cannot be seen. For the Christian, faith speaks of a life, a whole life that we live. Therefore, when the Anglican Catechism says that two of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are "generally necessary to salvation", it is not saying that a person who never receives these sacraments cannot be saved. It does not mean that a person crying out for God’s mercy in Christ, with his dying breath, will be lost if he has not received these sacraments. For, we cannot know the limits of God’s power and mercy; and so the word "generally" is used to mean that, generally speaking, under normal circumstances, it is necessary for those who believe in Christ to receive at least these two sacraments, baptism and holy communion.
For, generally speaking, most people who believe in Jesus Christ are supposed to live a life of faith. Living a life of faith involves repentance from sin and development of virtues. It means that we live a life of obedience to God and His word, that we read His word, that we pray regularly and constantly, and that we receive His sacraments.
And, to receive His sacraments, we need His Church. To live in Christ means that we eat His Body and drink His Blood, just as we heard His words in today’s Gospel reading. By the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and by His gifts and callings, we are the Body of Christ; and we see from these words of scripture that somehow this mystery of being the Body of Christ involves the receiving of holy communion.
It is no small matter than, that within two chapters of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, we see two usages of the phrase "the Body of Christ." First, in chapter eleven, we see it in His institution of the sacrament "in the night in which He was betrayed." Holding the bread in His hands, and blessing it, "He gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat, this is My Body.’ " Then in chapter twelve, St. Paul says that we, through the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, are the Body of Christ "and individually members of it." So, we see Christ’s Body in the bread which we bless, and we see Christ’s Body, His Church, visible and recognizable here on earth. The two meanings, however, were already tied together previously, in chapter ten, where the apostle had already written these words:
I Cor. 10:16, 17
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
Being in Christ, and therefore being in His Church, cannot be divorced from the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood. To eat and drink this Supper of the Lord cannot be divorced from being in that Church upon which the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. We eat the Body of Christ; we are the Body of Christ. His Spirit is within us; We are mysteriously and supernaturally joined to his incarnation, feasting on the immortality of his risen body through the sacrament; therefore we pray, in the words of the Prayer of Humble Access, "that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood; that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us." How Biblical, how meaningful, words that speak of the mystery of eternal life as the Church has always known and believed it. Yes, this sacrament is "generally necessary for salvation", for being "in Christ"- in His Church.
Our faith is rooted in that great truth, that central truth, the Incarnation. We know that Christ, being in very nature God, took human nature, created nature, and made it part of His eternal and uncreated Person. Thus He came and saved us from sin and death, and to complete our salvation He made us, in the words of St. Peter, "partakers of the divine nature." Seated at the right hand of the Father, on the very throne of God, is the human form of a man; a man who was dead and is alive; a man who shares our very nature. He overcame our separation from God as creatures, by taking our created nature, thus deifying it. He overcame our sins by dying for our sins as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He overcame our death by rising on the third day. He overcame everything that separated us from God, that we may become "partakers of the divine nature."
That He gives His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink is no small matter. St. Paul warns us not to take this communion unworthily, for it is His Body and Blood. If St. Paul had thought it to be a mere symbol, he could not have written these words. Our Lord Jesus is saying that we are to eat His Body and drink His Blood as the food and drink of eternal life, not as a mere symbol. There is nothing in His words, or the words of St. Paul, that reduces this to a metaphor or simile. The Incarnate Word, God the Son in human flesh, tells us to partake of Him in a manner that is worthy; that is, that we recognize His presence in this sacrament, and that we recognize His presence in His Church, and that we come in true faith having repented of our sins. If we do so, this is the food and drink of eternal life.
Listen to the words of the Apostle John, from his first Epistle:
I John 1:1-3
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are called into the same fellowship of those early disciples, of the apostles who declared the Gospel of the Word made flesh. What a beautiful description of salvation; what a picture of the Church. We are those who have fellowship with all believers going back to the beginning; this fellowship involves what we can see and touch, namely the Incarnate Word, that is God manifested in the flesh. How do we see Him and touch Him in this time between His two appearances? The late Roman Catholic bishop, Fulton J. Sheen, spoke of his experience as a priest, standing at the altar and consecrating the bread and wine, holding the host as it becomes the Body of Christ, saying that he had "held God in his hands." He knew that fellowship with Christ, with the Father, and with the whole Church militant and triumphant, going all the way back to those who saw the Lord, those who touched Him.
We have many today who want to deny that Christ came in the flesh; and to do this they deny that He comes in this sacrament. They want to say it is only a symbol, only a ritual. In that first Epistle St. John went on to write:
I John 4:1-3
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Denying the reality of the sacrament is part of this false spirit of antichrist. It is part of the denial of that mystery from which this sacrament springs, the Incarnation of God the Son. The idea is to reduce everything, the entire Gospel, into a mere representation, mere human imagination aspiring to divine realities. It is to place God forever beyond our reach, and to keep us from being "partakers of the divine nature." It is to transform the Church into an invisible idea that we cannot be part of. It is to take away the possibility of being in Christ, and of Him being in us. It is to take away the indwelling Holy Spirit Who makes us part of the Body of Christ.
On this feast of Corpus Christi we give thanks that Christ is among us in His Real Presence, and that we are the visible Body of Christ in this world. We have fellowship with all believers in all times and places, because we have fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, who we see and touch. Because we believe that He is Incarnate, fully God and fully man; because we believe that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and for ever. Amen.