Blood of the Old Testament, The Body of Christ, The Blood of Christ
Please read Luke 24:12-32, “The Road to Emmaus” story and Breaking of the Bread
Lutherans have a robust teaching of the Lord's Supper, affirming that the bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ. But so often we present this doctrine like a fighter with one hand tied behind his back. So, we stick to the proof texts, missing out on so much scripture that would enrich our teaching. Sometimes, this is done as a way to play it safe. So, the Roman Catholics argued that the Road to Emmaus story validated the practice of offering the sacrament in one kind. Zwingli argued that the story shows us that what is given in the supper is simply bread. So, some Lutherans have simply punted, arguing that not all bread stories refer to the Supper.
The problem though is not with the story itself, but in the interpretation. The breaking of bread is indeed shorthand for the Lord's Supper, it is just another name, like Holy Communion is, the Eucharist is, or the Sacrament of the Altar is. Each name and each biblical story offers us a glimpse into the mystery that is the Supper. In the Supper, we receive Manna from heaven (John 6:27, 32-33), that is the Bread from Heaven, who is himself Christ. We receive the Bread of Presence, for our Lord is with us always. The supper is a mass feeding, as it was in the Feeding of the 5000. It is the bread that sustains us and the wine that brings us joy. It is the very body of Christ which fortifies us, and the blood of Christ that cleanses us. It is fruit from the tree of life. It is a table set in the presence of our enemies, where our cup runneth over.
We should never let false teaching keep us from seeing what is plain. The disciples’ eyes were opened precisely in the breaking of the bread, the moment when our Lord turned from guest to host. And what this teaches us is precious…most precious. Our Lord's presence is not to be thought of as localized in Jerusalem, but He is everywhere where His Word is preached, and where the Eucharist is celebrated. The Eucharist, like the tabernacle, has the element of mobility. In the breaking of the bread, our Lord disappears. He doesn't leave, but disappears. This is the way that our Lord teaches us that He is with us always, even unto the end of the world (John 14:18)
When you hear Jesus say, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” this is the theology of the Old Testament behind His words.
In the sacrifices of Israel, blood was more important than any other part of the animal. For example, no part of the animal was ever taken into the Holy Place, much less into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, no part of the animal – with the sole exception of the blood – was ever taken any closer to the inner sanctum than the altar in front of the tabernacle or temple. In certain sacrifices, however, the blood was taken into the Holy Place and even into the Holy of Holies.
Leviticus 17:11 explains the importance of blood:
“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.”
This passage has several noteworthy features.
* The life [literally “the soul”] of the flesh is in the blood. The very life of the animal is located precisely in its blood. To have the blood is to have the life. To be touched by the blood is to be touched by the life. Life is not an abstraction; it is a visible, tangible fluid. Life is blood and blood is life. Where there is no blood, there is no life.
* I have given it to you. Blood is a divine gift from the Lord and Giver of life. This is His institution. He has given it to His Church that they might have the life that is located in the blood. Thus, the blood not only has life; it conveys life for the Lord has given it for that very purpose.
* On the altar. God gives His Church the life of the blood on the altar. The altar is not just a place of death but of life for here the life-giving blood is placed. The life-blood is drained from the victim and placed on the altar. Because the altar is most holy (Exodus 29:37), the blood, when it touches the altar, becomes most holy. Therefore, by the Word of God, the blood of the sacrifice is living and holy and bestows life and holiness. It is life in the animal; it becomes holy on the altar; and it is life-giving and holy-giving to the Church.
* To make atonement for your souls. The life-blood of the victim atones for sinner. This is its purpose: it removes sin, it removes death, it removes unholiness. This happens not just in the killing of the victim, but in the placing of the victim’s blood upon the altar. No blood is atoning blood unless it touches the holy things of God. It is sprinkled, poured out, or smeared on God’s altar, God’s priest, or God’s tabernacle. It is then atoning blood for it has become holy blood by contact with God’s holy thing. Atoning blood is therefore holy blood, life-giving blood. It is given for the removal of sin and the bestowal of holiness.
When you hear Jesus say, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” this is the theology of the Old Testament behind his words.
A real Christ. A real sacrifice. Real blood. Real life. Real forgiveness.
So it is that we confess the real presence, that is the mystery of receiving the very body of Christ in the Holy Supper. This is most profound way that Christ keeps His promise to be with us always, even to the end of the ages. It is the way in which He breaks bread with the Emmaus disciples, and then vanishes without leaving. It is the comfort of knowing that our Lord is with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death. It is our comfort when the boat seems about to capsize, and Christ appears to be asleep or absent. To have the loaf is to have Christ, and all is well.
But there is more, for as we celebrate the body of Christ in the Supper, so also do we celebrate the body of Christ, the church. At the supper, we dine in the presence of angels and archangels, for they must be where Christ is. But, even more, the body of Christ is a kind of portal, a wormhole by which we are transported into the heavenly places, or rather that the heavenly places are now our places, where Christians gather around Word, Body, and Blood. This means we need not think of loved ones, especially those who have passed away, as being distant, for they have been baptized into the very body of Christ. In the communion of Christ's body, we have communion with Christ's body the church in all times and in all places. Time and space collapse into the one who is the Alpha and Omega, the one that rose to the right hand of God that he might fill all things. Now, it's a taste, with the full banquet to come, a family celebration of love.