As memorials of His saving passion, He has left us these gifts which we have set forth before You according to His commands. For when He was about to go forth to His voluntary, ever memorable, and life-giving death, on the night on which He was delivered up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy and pure hands, and presenting it to You, God and Father, and offering thanks, blessing, sanctifying, and breaking it:
He gave it to His holy Disciples and Apostles saying: Take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you and for the remission of sins. Amen.
Likewise, He took the cup of the fruit of the vine, and having mingled it, offering thanks, blessing, and sanctifying it:
He gave it to His holy Disciples and Apostles saying: Drink of this all of you. This is My Blood of the New Covenant, shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins. Amen.
(Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, p. 28-29)
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Matthew 26: 26-28
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Christ is Risen!
We are coming to the end of this beautiful prayer which encompasses the entire history of salvation. It has mentioned the creation, the fall, the Old Testament highlights, the work of Christ, all the way to the second coming, when Christ will come to judge all who have ever lived.
We live in the continuum of history. We are between the Resurrection and Ascension but before the Second Coming of Christ. In some sense, we live as the people of the Old Testament, who lived before the Incarnation of Christ. They had promise and prophecy and were waiting for fulfillment. Christ has come into the world and now, like them, we wait for the promise of eternal life, which as we just reflected will be preceded by an accounting at His awesome judgment seat.
The wait can be difficult for a couple of reasons. First, we oftentimes lack a sense of urgency. Two thousand years has passed since the Resurrection. Why hasn’t Christ come back yet? We think “not in our lifetimes.” This idea of the second coming is the farthest thing from many minds. Second, it appears that many of the signs of the second coming have already happened or are already happening. We sometimes question whether what Jesus said is actually accurate. Third, with all the violence and strife going on around us, we wonder why God doesn’t intervene. He seems silent. All of this can make faith something difficult to grasp, express and hold onto.
Jesus did something special for His followers though. He gave us a way to partake of Him throughout this life. He gave us the means to sustain ourselves as we walk through this life. And He gave us a way to partake of divine nature, even in our own sinfulness, and He did it in a way that is accessible to us.
If Christ walked through the door of my office right now, I would cower under the desk, unable to look at Him. In instituting bread and wine as the elements we partake of in Holy Communion, we have elements that we can see, touch and taste. We have the means to receive them often. And we have the grace needed to consecrate ordinary substances into the extraordinary substances of Christ’s divine nature—His Body and Blood.
We know that Christ instituted the Eucharist in the context of a supper with His disciples, the night before His crucifixion. The prayer ends with the familiar words of institution of the Eucharist, with the added phrase “He gave it to His holy Disciples and Apostles saying.” He told His disciples that the bread was His Body, broken (at this time, about to be broken) for the remission of our sins. Afterward, He took a cup of wine and He gave that to His Disciples, telling them to drink of it, that this cup of wine was His blood, of the New Covenant. The phrase “New Covenant” is significant. In the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Law, as we have already discussed, sacrifices always involved the shedding of blood of an animal. In instituting the new covenant, Christ was intimating that after He shed His blood, any sacrifice to God would not involve the shedding of blood.
In addition to the Bible quote from Matthew 26: 26-28, which is one of the places in Scripture where the Eucharist is spoken of, there is an account of the Eucharist in Luke 24. Jesus, on the afternoon of His Resurrection, encounters two of His disciples walking on a road to Emmaus. They don’t recognize Jesus, who doesn’t reveal Himself either. Jesus asks why they are so sad and they tell Him all the things that took place, questioning why things happened the way that they did. Jesus, still not recognized by them, tells them things from the prophets concerning Himself. In Luke 24:30, Jesus sat at the table with them, and He took bread and blessed it and gave it to them, and they recognized Him but He vanished out of their sight. They told the other disciples what had happened, and “how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35) The Eucharist is how God is made known to us and it has been so since the Last Supper.
Our sustenance to get through this life, as we wait to pass to eternal life, is imparted to us in large measure through the Eucharist, through Christ Himself, given to us as bread and wine that are consecrated into His Body and Blood.