While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ (Matthew 26.26-29)
‘This is my body …. this is my blood’. Those words must have brought the conversation around the table to an end. What was he saying to them? They had heard him say ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6.35), they had heard him say ‘Come to me all who are thirsty’ (John 7.37). But now he takes bread and breaks it, takes the cup and shares it and brings them into a new place. It wasn’t that they understood at this moment what was happening, but they knew something was happening.
By the time St Paul was writing his first letter to the church in Corinth others had realised that something had happened at that moment. Paul reflects on the Eucharist in their community and gives us an insight into what the early church was doing and how they were doing it. And at the heart of what they were doing and what they were saying were the words of Jesus from the Last Supper.
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11.23-26)
It doesn’t matter how ‘high’ or ‘low’ our church tradition, it doesn’t matter what our theology of the Eucharist is, it doesn’t matter how we understand the presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species, we know that when we hear these words we hear words echoing through the centuries, echoing from the upper room to the room where our community of faith is gathered and is breaking bread. Time is concertinaed and we are at the one table, at the one meal, with the one Lord, sharing in the one bread. As Paul says earlier in that letter
Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10.17)
It is the meal of unity. The supper draws into true communion and true community with God and it finds its daily expression in the Eucharist.
This is the collect for the Feast of Corpus Christi, the day on which the church gives thanks for the gift of Holy Communion. The origins of the prayer lie in the writings of St Thomas Aquinas.
Lord Jesus Christ,
we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament
you have given us the memorial of your passion:
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries
of your body and blood
that we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives
the fruits of your redemption;
for you are alive and reign with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.