While they were eating, Jesus took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My Body.” Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is the Blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.-“ Matthew 26:26-28 (NRSV)
One of the biggest taboos in human society is cannibalism. We aren’t supposed to eat each other! Yet Jesus tells His followers that the bread He has broken is His body, and that they should partake of His body. It seems strange that Jesus would command His followers to do what is forbidden in the Law –not just eating someone’s body, but especially concerning consuming blood- see Leviticus 17:10-16. The blood is the life of a living being, and it is blood that is required for atonement.
This new directive to the disciples from Jesus is not a routine thing, even though if we are not careful, we may come to view the Sacrament of the Altar to be a routine thing. To the disciples, Jesus is doing something shocking and revolutionary. He is offering a sacrifice far more profound than the blood and flesh of livestock. He sets Himself up as the offering.
Lutheran Christians believe that when we take the Sacrament of the Altar (Communion) that Jesus is present in, with, over, under and through the elements of bread and wine. There is no question over the meaning of the word IS that Jesus uses, in saying this IS My Body (Matthew 26:26) and this IS My Blood (Matthew 26:28.) Lutheran Christians do not view Communion as a metaphoric or symbolic act, but as a very real way that God comes to us through physical elements.
So what exactly happens when we come to take, and eat, and when we come to drink from the cup?
In Luther’s Small Catechism, we learn that the Sacrament of the Altar has been instituted by Jesus for us- for the remission of sins, to bring life and salvation to us.
In partaking of the Sacrament, we internalize Jesus- not only in the elements of the bread and wine, but He becomes part of us. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. In every way that we exist and move and breathe.
When we come to the altar and we hear those beautiful words, “This is My body, given for you,” and “This is My blood, shed for you,” know that in that meal it is Jesus becoming a part of us. Healing us, forgiving us, making us stronger, giving us life and hope.