The Gospel reading that will be read most this coming Sunday is John 6:24-35: “… Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’…”
The Hebrew word manna (מָן) means “What is it?”! Whatsit?!
Exodus 16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
Exodus 16:33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of whatsit in it, and place it before the LORD, to be kept throughout your generations.”
It is a good invitation to consider the Eucharist. What is it?
Like light, modelled as waves and particles, there are different models for what it is – the Eucharist.
This goes back to the philosophy of Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE), distinguishing substance and accidents. A chair may consist of four legs, three legs; be made of plastic, wood, metal; be coloured blue, black, brown – these are the “accidents” of a chair, not the “chairness” (substance) of the chair.
God, being God, can change the substance of something so that the accidents remain the same. It has all the attributes (accidents) of bread, but the substance is Christ.
Whilst the philosophical categories of substances and accidents may no longer be advocated by many, “transubstantiation” is now more regularly used as a way of indicating belief in the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist” (as if, the alternative would be, Christ is present everywhere except in the bread and wine of communion – a “Real Absence”).
Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ’s body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ’s living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world.
You are truth…
(New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa NZPBHKMA page 541)
It is both bread and Christ.
We break this bread to share in the body of Christ… NZPBHKMA p 425
We take some cloth, stitch it to some other cloth… it is a flag we are willing to die for; get teary-eyed about at the Olympics…
We take some gold, form it into a ring…
We take some paper, print something on it; now, for many, it becomes their highest value – money.
We alter the significance of something. Its significance to us.
“Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us the body and blood of Christ…” NZPBHKMA p 423
What is important is what happens in our minds – not what we receive in our mouths.
“Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.” (BCP)
Different individuals and denominations may focus on or stress one of these models. Like models for light (what is it?) both particles and waves point to the mysterious reality – each model has some truth to teach us.
Queen Elizabeth I said it well:
Twas God the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the word did make it;
That I believe, and take it.