Too often, we limit our thinking concerning the meaning of this bread to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. When we do so we cannot comprehend fully the breadth and depth of what did occur on the cross. Jesus’ sacrifice of his body began so much earlier: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…A body thou didst prepare for me…to do thy will, O God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory,” (Jn 1:1, 14; Heb 10:5-7).
Jesus spoke, "This is my body,” and soon he gathered his disciples, sang a hymn and left for the garden of Gethsemane. He left the eight, and even went a stone’s throw beyond Peter, James and John, and began to pray in an agony so great that drops of sweat poured from him as drops of blood. We can imagine his prayers:
Father, I came to do your will. I left heaven and emptied myself to take the body you prepared for me, to become a servant. I thirsted and hurt and sweated and was sore and tired so that I could be human and intercede for them. Now, it is the time to die; the cross, horrendous pain for a long time, beatings, mockery and humiliation. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…but, thy will be done,” (Mt 26:34).
Then Jesus returned and found the disciples asleep. He wakened them and rebuked, where were you when I needed you (Mt 26:40)? He again went forward to pray.
Father, I left the holiness of your presence to take a body and live in a world saturated with sin. My life was surrounded by the ugliest, vile wickedness against the joy of the life you decreed; My senses were assaulted by the constant rebellion against your righteous ways; My ears were assaulted with curses and filth from lips you created for praise. Yet, I kept myself unspotted; I maintained the same holiness I enjoyed with you from before the beginning. Now, I must bear their sins in my body (1Pet 2:24). The purity I have never compromised is to be stained with the ugliness we never even imagined. For their sake, I must become sin (2 Cor 5:21). “Father, let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”
And he came again and found the disciples sleeping. He reproved them and returned to pray a third time.
Father, we have always been together. Before time was, before the world was, we shared plans and thoughts and ideas and feelings, and have never been apart. But now, on the cross, my holy body will become sin; all the evil from all humanity laid on me. You cannot be where sin is; You cannot accept sin in your presence. You must withdraw from me, and the fellowship that is without beginning will be broken. Alone. I will be separated. Hell. “Father, let this cup pass from me. But, thy will be done in my body.
And, again, the disciples slept.
Then Judas betrayed him.
In his body, Jesus sacrificed his position and became flesh; Jesus sacrificed his holiness and became sin; Jesus sacrificed his fellowship: “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?”
“This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: yea, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove one with another, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father; so he that eats me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; he that eats this bread shall live forever,” (Jn 6:50-58).
Many have read this passage over the Lord’s Supper with little comprehension of the meaning. Jesus is not referring to his coming sacrifice in any way. Instead, his words demand an absolute commitment to his incarnation—that he is God in the flesh. Who he is must be the food that sustains the inner life of Jesus’ disciple. He cannot include any other philosophy; worldly ambitions cannot be on the menu; family obligations may not be considered. Jesus’ incarnate life must be one hundred percent of his sustenance. Taking the emblems at the Lord’s Supper is a token reminding every disciple of that commitment and a renewal of it. “This is my body.”
We are the body, he is the head. As we take the bread we must question our commitment to the purity of his body, the church. Do we pray in agony to maintain our personal purity? Will we give our position, our lives, even all that we were, to do God’s will? People say, “That is just the way I am,” or, “I’m doing the best I can,” while their lives demonstrate so little of the sacrificial attitude, “A body thou hast prepared for me, to do thy will O God.” No wonder some are sick and some have died (1 Cor 11:30).
When we take this bread, this memorial to his body, we are also partaking in a re-commitment to be his body. We made that commitment at baptism—crucified with Christ, put to death, raised to a new life, “To do thy will, O God.”