A huge point of conflict between Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox is the theological doctrine concerning the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples at Passover. He breaks the bread, gives it to his disciples, says it is his body, and then he does the same with the wine calling it his blood (Matt. 26:26-28). Being raised in an Anabaptist tradition, I was taught that Jesus was speaking metaphorically only. Wine and bread can’t really change into his body. Even further, wine could be substituted for grape juice, cranberry juice, or even grape jelly. Jesus just used wine because it was available. Likewise, bread could be substituted for chips, tortillas, or even peanut butter. Jesus just used what was available.
Yeah…I know there’s a lot of people who think that Catholics “read into” the text when they declare their doctrine of transubstantiation, but this is bona fide eisegesis right here. Speaking of transubstantiation, I’ve always found the Orthodox contention a bit humourous as well. “No, it isn’t transubstantiation, it is transformation!” Sheesh, does it ever feel like Christians sometimes get too bogged down by semantics? Transubstantiation indicates the substance changes. In other words, the substance of bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ. Transformation means the form changes. As is in the bread and wine change form (which could include composition, substance, or even shape) into the body and blood of Christ. Now, we know the bread and wine do not change their composition or shape in the sacrament…
But aside from debates over transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and symbolistantiation, another key point of contention is that the Eucharist is taught to be a sacrifice in Orthodox, Catholic, and High Anglican traditions. Protestants obviously object to this doctrine as heretical because obviously the Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus is the sacrifice once and for all (Heb. 10:10). But what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we are restricted to view the historical event of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross as the only time in which there can be said to be anything sacrificial in Jesus’s ministry? And also, if the Eucharist being consumed is, indeed, the body and blood of Christ as it would seem to imply, is this not part of the sacrifice? Does it mean Christians really have nothing to offer in terms of sacrifice to the Almighty God despite being declared to be an order of priests (hiereteuma) offering sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5)? What possibly can we offer?
Of course, Christ’s sacrifice of his body once for all is actually considered a prosphora as opposed to what is found in 1 Pet. 2:5 which is called a thysia. A prosphora is an offering specifically for sin. Thus, the historical event of Jesus’s death on the cross is in fact something that could be interpreted as this particular thysia that Hebrews refers to. But…
This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (NIV, Matt. 26:28-29)
It seems a little bit odd that not only did Jesus a) equate the Eucharistic meal with blood of the covenant (sacrificial language) for the forgiveness of sins (also, sacrificial language) but also made a point of stating that he would drink it new with the Apostles in his Father’s kingdom. The Father’s kingdom here, of course, could be an eschtalogical statement, but it could also refer to Jesus’s founding of his Church. It would make no sense for him command them to eat the Eucharistic meal in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19) and then state he would only drink it new with them in his Father’s kingdom if it was to only be had the one time.
This is not to say that the Eucharist is a series of multiple different sacrifices. Rather, it is one sacrifice. The body and blood of Christ sacrificed once for all in the Eucharist. It is a point to be made of both God’s surpassing time and his surpassing of materialistic presence. This is not to say that Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross is not an important sacrifice or is not included in this sacrifice. Rather, it is a major event that is a part of the sacrifice of both body and blood. Indeed, the entire incarnation is the sacrifice one could say.
But to go a little further, St. Paul further compares the Eucharist to the sacrifices that Pagans offer to their gods (1 Cor. 10:18-22). He uses the term thysias which does not mean, necessarily, a sin offering for Pagan sacrifices are more generic. But by using such comparative language, the readers of his letter would have concluded that the Eucharistic meal he is describing would have been something either comparable to a Pagan sacrifice or the Christian version of the Pagan sacrifice (more likely, the other). The early Christians, stemming from both Jew and Gentile backgrounds would have understood things sacrificially and when such terms were used to describe their theologies, they probably meant it. Another point to make is that St. Paul declares that eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ is a proclamation of the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). It is not that the death of Christ is “continued” in that he keeps dying over and over again or “perpetuated” in that he is forever in a death cycle. Rather, what the sacrifice means is that the prosphora of Christ having offered his body and blood is that he has forever allowed his body and blood to be consumed by the Church. This offering was encapsulated in his death on the cross and since his resurrection is allowed to continue forever in every place of the world.