Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
THE BODY OF CHRIST, HIS SACRIFICE
During the Holy period of Passover, Jesus arranged for a final supper with his disciples in an upper room of an inn in Jerusalem. It was the final meal before Jesus would begin the process of creating Easter. At one point Jesus said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” None of the twelve he was dining with had any idea of what was to occur over the next several hours and days or why Jesus said these soon-to-be remarkable words. Certainly, this request would have seemed odd to the unsuspecting twelve and, while sitting there with Jesus, they could not have imagined the importance of what Jesus was offering or the sacrifice he was going to make to support this powerful statement.
Two millennia later, we know the story of what occurred after this Thursday night dinner. Jesus would visit the garden of Gethsemane to pray and then would be arrested and handed over to the local authorities. Pontius Pilate would reluctantly sentence Jesus to death—a painful crucifixion upon a cross near the entrance into Jerusalem called Golgotha. He would rise on the third day following his death.
Jesus knowingly sacrificed his earthly body for all humanity. He gave up his temporary worldly vessel in an event that would become a hallmark for all Christians.
Today, we get to join in this act of sacrifice by way of the Holy Communion. Every Catholic Mass ends with the taking of the bread. Monthly, Protestants take the sacrament as well. It is a sacred rite for all denominations—a common bond shared by all Christians. When we take this blessed bread, we at once perform a mutual act of obedience. It is one that recognizes Jesus’s sacrifice and, in turn, compels us to consider our following of the Lord.
Jesus’s request to the disciples was a test of obedience—a simple request to follow. But it was not just for the original twelve disciples; it was for all who would follow the “Take and Eat” act through all future generations.
In very human terms, what Jesus did that night was a lonely and difficult journey of sacrifice. We, at least, know the end of this story and the act’s value to humankind. The original twelve who heard this command could only guess at what Jesus was talking about. Today, when we take this bread, we are agreeing to follow.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer described this following by saying, “Any single act of Christian obedience is far more valuable than one hundred sermons.” The price we pay in following and taking the bread is the price of action. For if Jesus was willing to sacrifice, what are we willing to do in return?
It might be with a gift of money, holding a door, or going out our way to provide for the poor. Any act that imitates Jesus moves us closer to becoming like him.
We can wonder what the twelve thought that night and into Good Friday and then through Easter morning. There was certainly doubt in the ensuing weeks. One—Judas—in a spirit of remorse, gave back the ill-gotten coins he had received for betraying Jesus, by throwing them on the floor. The others all eventually righted themselves and acted by following Jesus’s example.
The New Leader
Peter became the new leader and guided this small band throughout the balance of his life. As a street preacher, he converted many in Judea. One account, in the Book of Acts, says he converted three thousand new believers from one sermon. He, himself, died on a cross in 66 AD.
Tradition has Andrew going to modern day Russia, Turkey, and Greece to spread the good news of Jesus. He was reputed to have been crucified in Greece as well.
Thomas went to the lands east of Syria. Today, he is credited with being the founder of the Marthoma Christian sect in India. He died after being pierced with spears by four soldiers.
Phillip had a strong ministry in Carthage and, after converting a local Roman Proconsul’s wife, was arrested and put to death.
James and John, whom Jesus referred to as “the sons of thunder” because of their loud and boisterous nature, became known later as the “sons of love,” recognizing their softened approach.
There are similar stories for the other Apostles as well. After a period of confusion following Jesus’s death, the twelve did not return to their old lives as fishermen or tax collectors or zealots; history has them continuing to follow the ways of Christ. They continued to “Take and eat, this is my body.” in remembrance of Christ.
Living Through Actions
Today, it is unlikely we’ll be crucified or eaten by lions in the coliseum because we follow the teachings of Jesus. For most Christians in America, those days are behind us. Our task as followers is that of discipleship. Discipleship isn’t lived through words but through actions—actions that imitate Jesus and help our neighbors.
When we take the bread and eat in remembrance of Christ, we are sharing in a many-centuries act of discipleship also performed by the twelve Apostles, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Saint Francis of Assisi, and many others. It is a way of remembering the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
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