Before Christ instituted the Eucharist, he taught his followers the meaning of his body and blood, the meaning of which he will later specifically attach to bread and wine. He created a point of tension that forced his hearers to make a choice — either to want to understand or to walk away. In John’s Gospel, chapter six, we read:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.
It is interesting this is the only place in the Gospels, that I’m aware of, where it says many stopped following Jesus. It is interesting that it comes because of his teaching on the Eucharist. But his closest disciples stayed with him, their hearts being gradually prepared to hear more. Later Jesus will institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
How many who call themselves Christians today have also drawn back from His teaching and see the Eucharist as only a symbolic act? Perhaps this shift from sacrament to symbol has become a first step for many in crafting a more palatable gospel. I know it was for me, but then it gradually became a point of tension in my heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, at your Last Supper
you prayed to the Father that all should be one.
Send your Holy Spirit upon all
who bear your name and seek to serve you.
Strengthen our faith in you, and lead us
to love one another in humility.
May we who have been reborn in one baptism
be united in one faith under one Shepherd.