If someone in front you in a cafeteria line reached over, picked up a loaf of bread, handed it to you, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body” (Matt 26:26), wouldn’t you think him a bit daft? I suspect two questions would immediately come to your mind: “Does he really believe that the bread really is his body?” and, “Why is he telling me this?”
Our church teaches when Jesus broke bread with his disciples the night he was betrayed, the bread in his hands was not really his body and when we partake of the bread today at the Lord’s Supper, his body is not present in the bread, actually, really, or spiritually. The bread is a symbol of his body, broken for us.
As for why Jesus is telling us that the bread is his body, Jesus himself supplies the answer: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19).
A third, very practical, question comes to mind: What exactly are we to remember? I can think of two initial answers. First, we are to remember that he died for us. His body was given for us. Second, he is coming again: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26) A third answer comes to mind but it will take a bit of explanation.
Look closely at what he said: “This [the bread] is my body… take and eat it [the bread/his body]… Do this [the eating] in remembrance of me.” The eating itself is the remembrance. Of course, we should not just “go through the motions”, as if the eating itself has merit if our minds are elsewhere. But he didn’t say, “Eat something, whatever you want, and think about me.” He called the bread his body and then commanded us to eat it, not anything else, and eat it in remembrance of him, not eat it and remember him. But why would eating bread be a remembrance?
The answer is right in front us: Eating the bread is a remembrance because the bread is a symbol of Jesus and especially his body broken for us. When we eat the bread, we are eating his body symbolically.” Dare I say that we are pretending to eat his body?
This “pretending” is important: It’s not child’s play and, as long as everyone understands that we are pretending, it’s not lying. We watch people pretend every time we go to a play or movie. When a couple renews their vows, they are pretending they are getting married for the first time. Hobbyists and historians re-enact great battles or great speeches. The pretending helps strengthen our experience and our thinking. The point is this: Jesus wants us to think “I am eating his body” when we partake of the bread.
It’s a symbol, but what a potent symbol! “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) He nourishes us, he strengthens us, he refreshes us, we can’t go a day without him, we enjoy him. All that is symbolized when we eat the bread. Think about these things the next time and each time you partake of the Lord’s Supper: he died for us, he’s coming again, and he is our bread of life!