The Life-giving Flesh and Blood of Christ- April 27, 2023by Fr. Jonathan Cholcher
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever 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.” (John 6:53-55)
After declaring the above words, we read in the Gospel that “many of Christ’s disciples said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’” (Jn. 6:60). We also read that “from that time many of [Christ’s] disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (Jn. 6:66); in other words, the necessity of literal communion with Christ’s life-giving flesh and blood conflicted with many would-be disciples’ understanding of what it meant to be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. Thus earlier, “The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” (Jn. 6:52).
Indeed several opponents of Christianity have mocked communion with the flesh and blood of Christ, specifically Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, as ritual cannibalism. These opponents of Christ cannot conceive of literal communion with Christ in terms other than a crassly carnal, materialistic sense, as if Holy Communion is nothing more than ingesting a bloody piece of meat (God forbid!).
Our Lord Himself answered this objection. “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (Jn. 6:61-64)
Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man takes place in the reality of Christ’s ascension from earth to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father filling all things. The life of Christ transmitted in the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood is life in the eternal Spirit, not merely life in the transient flesh. The life-giving flesh and blood of Christ are apprehended by faith; they cannot be received beneficially without faith, that is, automatically simply in the eating, like some magic pill or nutritional supplement. Otherwise, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ, would not have acted against his Master having just received the Body and Blood of Christ with the other apostles (Jn. 13:18-30).
Hence, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). “For in [Christ Jesus the Lord] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:9-10). “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren…Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself like shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:11, 14-15).
The divine nature of the eternally only-begotten Son of God did not somehow change into, or become a hybrid of, created flesh; rather, the eternal Son of God took on our human flesh and united His divine nature to our human nature in one Person, the God-Man (Gk., theanthropos) both fully divine and fully human. The Person of Jesus Christ is the redemption of our fallen nature by the restoration of communion with the divine in His very flesh and blood, that is, restoration to communion with the divine which is the original purpose of God creating us human beings in His image and likeness.
Likewise, we who now exist merely in an otherwise fallen human nature devoid of divine, eternal life, have in the life-giving flesh and blood of Christ the possibility of communion with the divine once again. We who are merely human do not change into, or become a hybrid of, the divine nature – we do not become “gods” in and of ourselves (see Gen. 3:5), which is self-idolatry, pantheism. Rather, “through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,” by the promises in Christ, we “become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Pet. 1:3, 4).
Christians exist in a divine-human communion, “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed at the last time” (1 Pet. 1:4-5). This is accomplished in Holy Baptism where we are made members of the Body of Christ, in Holy Chrismation where we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in Holy Communion, the ongoing eating and drinking of the very body (flesh) and blood of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 11:23-25; 1 Cor. 12:12-14; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). This very simply is the Orthodox Faith actualized and manifested in each Christian person of faith.
After teaching of the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood for eternal life, when many went away from following Him, Christ said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Jn. 6:67-69)
Only after witnessing Christ’s crucifixion in the flesh and the blood, and acknowledging Christ’s resurrection from the dead retaining the marks of crucifixion in His incorruptible flesh, did the disciples truly come to believe and understand the gravity of the life-giving flesh and blood of Christ. Just before these events, on the night when He was betrayed, Christ gave His life-giving flesh and the blood to the assembled apostles, His Church, for perpetual communion “in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” in glory on the Last Day (1 Cor. 11:26; Heb. 10:19-25).
Lord, to whom shall we go? We come to Christ and gather about His Table and literally have communion in the glorified flesh and blood of Christ. It is the feast of faith and of true life establishing us in our true home with the Lord Jesus, the eternal Father, the life-giving Spirit, and all the saints.