Jesus, God on earth, gave us two impossible tasks:
- to “go and sin no more.”
- to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Never sin again? And be perfect? Is he kidding me?!?!?
Why would God ask us, imperfect creatures, to be perfect? I mean, how would we possibly accomplish this?
The short answer is we can’t. It’s impossible.
So why then does Jesus tell us to do something we can’t do on our own?
For two reasons:
- Good is Not the Same as Holy – Just being a “good person” isn’t good enough. Good isn’t close to perfect. And sinning every once and a while isn’t close to sinning no more.
- We Must Rely on God – The only way we can dream of being perfect or never sinning is by relying on Christ in every step of our life, to fill us with his graces, and help us to become holy.
Without reliance on God, we can never achieve entry into Heaven. As a matter of fact, we must first learn to rely on God and then follow him into Heaven. But, how do we follow him? Jesus himself tells us… “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
So we must first deny ourselves? Yes. We are sinful. We are imperfect. We are corrupted. In order to rise above this, in order to save our life, we must lose it.
All of this sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? Like a Dr. Seuss book or something. But, it’s not. Let’s put this struggle into a bit of context.
Our Fallen Nature
God created us from the beginning for one, simple reason; so we could spend eternity with him. That was the plan. However, our sinfulness separates us from God.
When Adam and Eve corrupted mankind by their Original Sin, God placed a cherubim with a flaming sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden so they wouldn’t risk eating from the Tree of Life, which grants immortality. God didn’t want them to be immortal and separated from him, because he wants to spend eternity WITH us.
He wants us to be holy, not corrupted, not fallen.
The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God knew he was the only one that could repair their damage and he’d do this by entering humanity, telling Eve that she will have a descendant (Mary) that will have a child (Jesus) who will crush the skull of the serpent.
What does all of this have to do with Bread and Wine?
Well, after he entered humanity, as Jesus, both human and divine, he would have to sacrifice himself and die for our sins. He would then overcome death and be resurrected, eventually ascending to Heaven, returning to the place from which he came.
But, he still wanted to be physically present with us in order to help us be holy, to move us toward perfection and sinlessness. He achieves this with the sacraments, the most central of all is the Eucharist.
Bread and Wine
Out of all of God’s marvelous creation, why did God choose Bread and Wine as a way to be physically present with us? Couldn’t he had chosen anything else?
He could have, but he chose Bread and Wine because they are physical representations of our conversion from fallen to holy. Just as we cannot become holy on our own, nor can wheat become unleavened bread or a grape become new wine on their own.
Like us, who must deny ourselves, die to ourselves, the wheat must be crushed and die in its present form to become flour and the grape must be crushed and die in its present form to become juice.
Just as we need God to imbue us with the Holy Spirit in order to become a holy and through our growth become a saint, the flour must be combined with water and perhaps oil to become dough and cooked to become bread. And the grape juice must be combined with sugar and yeast and fermented in order to become wine.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus ties this all together when he connects wheat as an analogy to explain his sacrifice and the future propogation of the faith:
“In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.”
And continues with the cost of following him…
“Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me, must follow me, and my servant will be with me wherever I am. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.”
As St. Paul reiterates this in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“What you sow must die before it is given new life; and what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, of wheat I dare say, or some other kind; it is God who gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it, and for each kind of seed its own kind of body.”
Turning wheat to bread or a grape to wine is a process of infusion, just as our journey to become sinless and perfect is a process of communion with Jesus Christ.
Knowing he was going to implement the Eucharist, God continually combines his sacrifice with unleavened bread:
- God begins by layering in the use of Bread and Wine throughout salvation history starting with Melchizedek and continuing through the Old Testament.
- At the original Passover with Moses, God combines the consumption of the sacrificial lamb with the consumption of unleavened bread.
- In the Gospel of John, God again combines the consumption of the sacrificial lamb with the consumption of bread, when Jesus, as the Lamb of God, explains that he is the Bread of Life and that by eating his flesh and drinking his blood we will have eternal life with him.
- And at the Last Supper Jesus again combines the consumption of his flesh as the sacrificial Lamb with the consumption of bread when, upon taking the Passover bread and wine, he blesses them, gives thanks and tells the Apostles the bread is now his body and the wine is now his blood.
This perfect sacrifice is eternal and timeless and when the apostles, and now our priests, “do this in memory” of Jesus, we are at that same Last Supper, consuming the same bread and wine now changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
In Corinthians, St. Paul continues:
“Not all flesh is the same flesh: there is human flesh… Then there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; the heavenly have a splendour of their own, and the earthly a different splendour.”
Jesus’ sacrificial flesh, though equally human as our’s, is not the same as our flesh in that he is sinless and his brings us to holiness, where our’s is corrupted and leads us to sin.
Remember, God wants us to be with him forever, in his presence, in Heaven. He wants us to be holy, to be saintly. He wants us to strive to be perfect and sinless. And he gives us his own body and blood to nourish our souls.
Unlike normal food which is absorbed into our bodies and becomes a part of us, the Eucharist enters our body and we become part of him.
God chose Bread and Wine specifically so we could understand the need for the spiritual nourishment of Jesus’ own body as he converts us into something far greater than we could ever become on our own.
Through his perfect sacrifice, he turns us into a holy and worthy member of Heaven, giving eternal glory and honor to the Almighty God.