Nothing says Jesus Died for You like a Juicy Cheeseburger: Communion, Symbolism, and Literalism

   

“Eat this in remembrance of me.” With these famous words, Christ ushered into centuries of confusion and debate over the meaning of his cryptic words. Was the bread truly his flesh? Was the wine truly his blood? Much ink, and even much blood, has been spilled over Christ’s claim. The Catholic Church has maintained that Christ spoke literally, claiming that the bread truly is Christ’s flesh in essence. This doctrine, often referred to as transubstantiation, caused many to reject the Church’s interpretation of Christ’s words. Protestants maintain that Christ spoke metaphorically. The bread and the wine are simply tools, symbols of Christ’s sacrifice for man that ought to be taken simply as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. These differences, however, have plagued their respective churches.

The Catholic Church—since the decision made at Vatican II and the general liberalization of the Church—has shifted from having a priest offer the body of Christ to having the parishioner handle and serve the body themselves. However, since the  bread is literally the flesh of Christ, that flesh can be corrupted by unclean hands. This idea necessitated the cleansing of the priest, who—having been cleaned from sin by God—can handle and offer the Eucharist to the faithful Catholic. In older times, the Eucharist was placed on the tongue of the parishioner. Thus, Christ’s body was never touched by the hands of the recipient lest the flesh of Christ be corrupted with sin. This position has not changed. The bread is literally the body of Christ. This is not a form of cannibalism but the essence of Christ descending upon the Eucharist, altering its nature—no longer existing simply as bread or wine. This host of the essence of Christ is then consumed, bringing unity to man and God.

For the Protestant, the bread and wine is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice made on the cross. To eat the bread and drink the wine (or in most cases grape juice) is to remind one’s self of the blood that Christ shed for the remission of our sins.

Several problems arise from this position, though. If the bread and the wine that Christ said were his flesh and blood are truly symbolic, than other items can be substituted into the place of these. There is no significance in the objects themselves.

It is the perspective, the thoughts, of the individual while taking communion that is truly significant.

But if this is true, then one may substitute cookies or pizza for the body of Christ and soda or milkshakes for the blood of Christ. Indeed, Churches have done just this—to the utter horror of mainstream Protestants. They cry, “The body and blood of Christ must be given respect!” What is respect, then? If one is still able to “ponder” and “remember” Christ’s sacrifice while devouring a double-double cheese burger and extra-large coke, can this not be communion by the Protestants own definition? What if there is no bread or wine? Can other things be substituted in its place, like rice and water? Indeed, many do just this. And what of the Protestants abandonment of wine for grape juice? Do they, with this very action, demonstrate this very case—that the wine and bread can be substituted for other things?

Surely, Protestants agree that things can be substituted into the place of bread and wine, but the degree of this change, this substitution, is highly guarded—only allowing minor changes. Typically, crackers are substituted for bread and grape juice is exchanged for wine. Many may say, “they are so similar, the change does not truly matter.” This may be the case, but if there is nothing significant about the food, only the symbolism, than the food—the mode of communion—does not matter.

No doubt many feel wary at the thought of having pizza as a symbol for the body of Christ. And rightly so. Christ used bread for a reason. Similarly, Christ used wine for a reason. Perhaps the Jewish roots of Christianity should not be abandoned here. Unleavened bread and wine were no doubt eaten at this passover meal. Perhaps the Church should return to this tradition. But is there anything special about this bread, or is it merely just another cooked piece of dough?There is something more. The communion is just that, a communion with God and man, Christ and his servants. But is this merely in soul, or in body as well—as the latter is asserted by the Catholic Church.

Indeed, Christ’s essence certainly is present within the host, within the bread and wine. If God’s presence can descend upon physical objects, like men, temples, and a burning bush, can not his essence also come down upon the bread and wine, the Eucharist? Perhaps this essence provides the needed reverence that Protestant symbolism has seemed to lack in recent years. It may be, than, that the Eucharist is both literally and symbolically Christ’s body and blood. This is certainly not cannibalism, but the taking in of Christ’s essence through both the medium of the physical bread and wine and the thoughts of the individual as communion is taken.

Whatever the case may be, a return to the ways of the early church is needed. Communion was not just some cracker one shoved into their mouth and the swig of juice drank from a solo cup. Communion is a meal. A feast uniting brothers and sisters in Christ together with God. It is the union of a family with each other and Christ.

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  • Joseph Reger

    So true. I have never thought of it this way.. I almost gone as far to think that communion is becoming more ritualistic at some times. But to say that this pizza that I am enjoying with my fellow brothers and sisters can be a communion that's really cool.

  • Adam

    Jon, Christians cant drink wine… and especially not in church! alcohol is the devil! Thank goodness for that water sugar and purple drink.

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