“Is the Eucharist the Literal Body and Blood of Christ?”
I have frequent discussions with my friend, who is Catholic, about our beliefs and one of the things that comes up a lot is the Eucharist. She believes that when the priest blesses the bread and wine the spirit of Jesus goes into them. She also gives me John 6:27-58. Is it literal or not?
This is such a huge issue with grave theological disagreements that we cannot and will not be able to solve. But here are some thoughts that may help.
First, concerning your question about the literalness of the Lord’s statements in John 6: When He says, “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), does He really mean, “Tear off a chunk of My arm or leg with your teeth and chew Me up”? Furthermore, if partakers literally eat the body and blood of the Lord, it is broken down during digestion, but God has promised that His Holy One would never see decay (Acts 2:27).
In the same chapter, when He says He is the bread of life, does He mean He is made of grain and water and yeast? We also need to look at all the other “I am” statements in the book of John and ask, Does He mean those literally as well? When He says He is the light of the world (ch. 8), is He claiming to be the sun? When He says He is the door (ch. 10), is He saying He’s made of wood and has a doorknob? When He says He is the good shepherd (ch. 10), does it mean He gave up carpentry to keep sheep on Israel’s mountainsides? When He says He is the vine (ch. 15), is He saying He’s green and leafy?
There is a lot of very important and deep symbolism in the book of John that gives us insight into the spiritual truths the Lord Jesus was trying to communicate about the nature of spiritual reality. We need to be careful when we say we take the Bible literally. Yes, we do–in the places where it’s intended to be taken literally. But when a metaphor is used, we need to read it that way.
Secondly, in terms of the nature of communion:
There tend to be three positions on the nature of communion, or “the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). One is that the bread and wine are mystically changed into the actual body and blood of Jesus in a process called “transubstantiation.” A second position is that the bread and wine (or, in many churches, grape juice) are merely symbols of His body and blood. A third position is that the bread and wine are not chemically or supernaturally transformed, but they are still more than mere symbols: that the real presence of the Lord Jesus is in and around and through these tangible elements of His table.
We don’t have an official position on communion at Probe, but I will tell you that personally, I have held all three positions at various times and have landed on the third. I believe that part of the Lord’s grace to us corporately and individually is this gift of something physical and tangible that is a touch point between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, much as His body was that touch point between heaven and earth while He walked among us.
I hope this helps.