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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

22 August 2007

The Real Presence at the Last Supper

Q: At the institution of Holy Communion, Jesus stated, “This is my body ... this is my blood.” Since He did not die for several more hours, how could this be His body and blood?

My Body, My BloodA: It could be — indeed, it was and is and will remain — His body and blood simply because He said so. Our difficulty when facing such passages often involves a too-narrow perspective brought about by inability to comprehend an eternal God who exists independently of space and time: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)”

Human reason and our sense of time stumble when Jesus speaks from a divine perspective. In John 8:48, for example, the Jews accused Jesus of being demon possessed because He claimed a power over death that would have kept even Abraham alive. Jesus retorted, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. (v. 56)” Truly, this sounded impossible! “The Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ (v. 57)”

Jesus then uttered that well-known but still baffling response, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. (John 8:58)” He therefore claimed to have been alive before His own (or Abraham’s) birth. Moreover, by saying, “I am,” in this manner, He identified Himself as the One who called Himself “I am who I am (Exodus 3:14)” from the heart of the burning bush! Of course, if Jesus is I am, then He would have been before Abraham, for He would be God — and isn’t that what we believe?

Last SupperInterpreting prophetic language in the Old Testament often poses similar challenges. Several instances occur where an event is predicted for the future, yet through His prophets, God often says something akin to, “I have done it,” or “It is now so.” For example, we normally read something like this for Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” However, a literal translation could read, “The virgin is pregnant,” or “The virgin has conceived.” Since this passage points ahead to Jesus (see Matthew 1:23), we find that God treated as an accomplished fact what humanity had to await for centuries yet to come.

For these reasons and more, I am certain that the disciples truly received the body that would suffer and die by the following mid-afternoon. I also believe that they drank the blood that, from their perspective, had not yet been shed. Here also we note Jesus’ language and how His sense of time jars with ours. He didn’t speak of His body and blood that would be given and shed. Instead, He used a present tense. He said, “This is my body, which is given for you. (Luke 22:19, emphasis added)” He also said, “This is my blood ... which is poured out.... (Matthew 26:28, emphasis added)”

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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