Sunday, June 7, 2015
Today is the feast of Corpus Christi. That is the body of Christ. It is when we remember the great gift of Himself Jesus gives us in the Eucharist. What I was reflecting on today is the craziness of it. Discussing the idea that maybe someone made up the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe they made up the idea that Jesus is God. Maybe they made up all the miracles. It is a bit much. Could early Christians really believe so much based on no real data in an environment of persecution. If you read them it is harder to believe. The Apostolic fathers had the mindset of staunch conservatives. They fought heresies and searched instead for a deeper understanding of what came from the apostles and the old testament.
Yet after all that I think what maybe the least plausible thing for them to make up is the teaching on the Eucharist. Saying Jesus is God is a stretch, a big stretch. Saying Jesus told them to eat His body and drink His blood is beyond a stretch. Jews didn't even eat meat until all the blood was drained. They would never drink an animal's blood. Yet the early Christians are supposed to have made this up? It is just impossible. Yet the teaching of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist goes right back to the beginning and without controversy. John relates the words of Jesus in John 6 acknowledging how radical they are yet not backing down from them at all. His disciple, St Ignatius of Antioch, uses these words as an argument against Gnosticism. That is that the body of Jesus must have been physical because it is physically present to us in the Eucharist. It is an interesting argument because it would make zero sense if anyone believed in a symbolic Eucharist.
Then we have St Paul. He accepted the teaching of the apostles without any explanations. Jesus said, “This is my body.” So you had better come to the table contemplating that fully. A lot of the teachings of Jesus are explained further by St Paul in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection. It is quite significant that for this he just relates what Jesus said and did.
So if you are a skeptic and think Jesus was just a man then how does this story come into being? It kind of raises the bar on the liar-lunatic-lord argument. That is whoever sold the early church on this idea had to have been crazy. It is just a hard thing to believe. If it isn't true then there is no benefit at all to believing it. You can see why the resurrection might be popular to believe. You can see why the divinity of Jesus might be implausible but might also have some upside in being attractive to some. The eating and drinking of Jesus' body and blood? Who is going to be attracted by that. The Romans would not be. One of the few really strong moral prohibitions they had was against cannibalism. Yet Christians just asked to be accused of cannibalism by teaching this doctrine and, in fact, many Romans did make that claim. Where is the benefit?
So there are many teachings that came from Jesus that the non-Christian has to find a source for. The New Testament changed human society in so many ways. Where did the wisdom and power come from? Much of what flowed from that secular people agree with. The dignity of the human person. Love as a central virtue. The importance of forgiveness. Yet whoever brought us these ideas also brought us many ideas about God, about miracles and about resurrection. That is strange enough but the Eucharist is so much stranger. They tend not to want to believe Jesus taught anything that would make them label him crazy. Yet his followers arrive at such a strange place. How does that happen?