Why are you eating someone’s body and drinking his blood?
An indelicate question, but still, why?
You walk up the aisle and receive what appears to be bread and wine, but which is , according to your beliefs, Christ’s Body and Blood. The Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) described us as cannibals. And many of Jesus’ followers simply walked away when he said, “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:56ff)
The answer is found in the word “sacrifice.” I do not mean this in today’s meaning of the word sacrifice, which denotes some item you like but that you give up for Lent. Or, as parents might say: “I sacrificed my own interests in order to raise you kids.”
There is a longer history of the word sacrifice, and it involves body and blood.
Once upon a time, the tribes of the world tried to please whatever gods their tradition had by storm or of drought, or starvation, and so on. By giving up their best, they hoped to please the gods.
And they often killed what was being offered! Why would they do this?
Because slaughtering the best lamb from the herd made it a best gift for the gods. The lamb or dove (or young girl) represented the superlative things that belonged to earth, but which were freed from earth by death. Death sent the gifts to heaven.
Think of it this way: send the best of earth to heaven in so that the best of heaven could come down to earth. A uniting of heaven and earth. Often, the people ate the flesh and drank the blood of their offering in order to include themselves as an integral part of this “sacrifice.”
This desire to be at one with the gods, at one with the gifts and good things, is lodged deep in human culture and human nature.
So the One God, in the fullness of time, gave his people a connection with the real God—for whom they had been longing. He did this through, you guessed it, sacrifice. But he reversed the order of things by sending his own self to be sacrificed.
Notice the difference.
Send the best of heaven to earth in order that the best of earth can go up to heaven (Christ on the cross).
Christ came from heaven but was of the earth, and so he achieved for us the perfect unity of heaven and earth. Animals could not choose to be sacrificed, but Christ did freely so choose, out of love, on our behalf.
On the night before he suffered he gave them sacramental signs of what would be fulfilled the next day: he handed them his body and blood, under the appearance of bread and wine. He told them to consume it. It thus became a re-presentation for all time of the bloody sacrifice on the cross, now in an unbloody form.
All we have to do is take part in it.
So the answer to the question with which we began is that you and I eat his body and drink his blood in order to take part in Christ’s sacrifice.
It is a sacramental way to join in Christ’s sacrificial action: the new and eternal covenant. Our salvation.