The Eucharist leads a Protestant home to Rome.
C.S. Lewis’ Miracles and The Great Divorce helped me see The Eucharist. The former, I likely read the first time in college. The latter, upon arriving at the University of Mississippi for law school in 1992, I likely picked up at Square Books, an Oxford landmark. Both books forever-after reshaped my imagination, and thus my reading of Scripture. My Protestant past must have left an impression that the spiritual was something invisible, weak and thin. It must have, given the impression Miracles and The Great Divorce left on me. As a Baptist, we denied significant parts of historic Christianity. Later, in my Reformed tradition, we took that spirit of negation to another level. Immersed in those traditions, I was a fish that never knows it’s wet.
The spiritual is more solid
The message of The Great Divorce is below the surface. Lewis did not really believe in regularly-scheduled buses that ran to and from Hell and Heaven, allowing infernal residents a field trip to Heaven whenever they pleased. But Hell’s residents could barely walk on the ultra-solid, knife-like blades of grass that surrounded the fields of Heaven. The natural was more ephemeral than the spiritual. Leaves in Heaven were too heavy to lift. Glory is eternal and weighty. The spiritual is “more solid” and substantial, not less, than the natural.
Drama of salvation history
Growing up amid sola Scriptura’s sixteenth-century denials, some Scripture did not fit. As our Lord’s hour approached, supper unfolds in the upper room. Bread and wine become Body and Blood. The drama reads like another of God’s miracles in the long chain of salvation history. But our sixteenth-century’s rationalistic denials said otherwise. Were we spiritualizing and internalizing the Last Supper, effectively explaining it away? We called it a Sacrament, but it seemed weak and thin, not solid and substantial. Blades of grass haunted me.
More not less
Our symbolization and spiritualization flew in the face of The Incarnation. Eternal Spirit takes on flesh and blood. God, seeing the end from the beginning, knows His frailest and highest corporeal work will be rescued by most violent means. Fallen angels, the highest (now darkest) of His incorporeal order, are not redeemed. He intended more for us, not less.
Salvation history is one miracle after another, slowly unfolding over thousands of years (almost like re-creation in slow motion). God, who makes all things new, places Himself into His own creation. Shakespeare steps into the pages of Macbeth. Pure Spirit is now a peasant baby, born to a Jewish virgin. The Eternal Word, in the form of a slave, is savaged and nailed to a Roman cross. The God-Man, madly in love with us, bears our sins to the cross, descends into Hell, and hallows a rich man’s tomb by rising from the dead. By what authority do I pick and choose among the miracles underlying the faith? “I will take the Virgin Birth, a bit of water-to-wine, and feeding the multitude. Yes, give me a few healing miracles. Of course, I must take the Resurrection. No, thank you; hold the Eucharist, but give me a small bowl of symbolism please.” I was in Christianity’s cafeteria line, picking and choosing among what had been negated and denied for the last 500 years.
The Virgin Birth is without precedent, though not without prophetic groundwork in the Old Testament. The dying-then-rising God-Man is without precedent, but not without hints and prophecies in the Law and Prophets. Likewise, the Eucharist is without precedent. Again, however, we are prepared for this grand miracle by shadows and types in the Old Testament, and by our Lord’s own words and deeds.
Under Moses, the Passover was an historical event, and also a shadow of the Paschal Lamb who would be slain. The Lamb of God bids us come and eat His Flesh. Under Moses, the Hebrews miraculously ate manna in the desert, a shadow of the solid reality of the Eucharist. The Israelites ate and died, so the Bread of Heaven came down for our sakes. Snake-bit sons of Israel, looking with faith upon that bronze serpent lifted high, were healed. Again, reality for the Hebrews, and a shadow for us. Given Golgotha’s hard hinge of history, we enjoy more, not less, than the bronze serpent. More, not less, is a theme flowing throughout salvation history.
Prophet, Priest and King
The Incarnation puts flesh and bones on Old Testament shadows and types. The Jews in John Chapter 6 rightly waited for the Great Prophet foretold by Moses; and seeing Jesus they intended to make Him king by force (Jn 6:14-15). Not entirely unlike ourselves today, first century Jews were looking for less than, not more, than God intended.
John Chapter 6 opens with our Lord multiplying loaves, then walking on water. The Lord of Nature displays His glory over the created order. Partly, I suspect, our unbelief springs from the failure to see the absolute miracle of existence; this created order that did not have to be. Looking right past the glory of God in the miracle of the harvest, it’s easy to miss what else He might be up to with His good seed. Who said the seed that falls into the earth and dies is destined only to be sliced for sandwiches or dipped in oil? The reality of seed, first seen in Genesis Chapter 1, more pronounced in Chapter 3, continues as a major theme, pregnant with meaning, throughout Sacred Scripture.
In John Chapter 6, our Lord multiplies loaves from His wheat that springs from His seed in His soil. Who said the miracle of life in the seed was intended only for the supper table? In John Chapter 6, water, separated from dry land in the beginning, now becomes like dry land under the Creator’s feet. “The sea and dry land belong to God, who made them, formed them by hand.” (Ps. 95: 5). By what authority do we limit what God intends to do with His created order? Who ever dreamed the Word of God becomes flesh and dwells among us? And aren’t we promised that our own redeemed bodies will fall into the earth as seed, to rise and become what we have never conceived of? (1 Cor. 2:9 and 15:36-49).
Miracles helped me see the God of seed and soil and sun, adding water, making the fruit of the vine; and, in an instant for a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, doing it again, fast and quick. Then and now, using Bread and Wine from His created order, our Lord generates faith in His disciples, displays His glory and gladdens the heart of man. The Lord intended to meet us that way, on His terms. The Great Divorce showed me the solid nature of the spirit and the malleable nature of the physical. Both books taught me to expect more, not less, from our Lord:
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:33) . . . “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’” (Jn 6:35) . . . “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:48-51).
Jesus’ words sound earthy, not “spiritual” in the way I had been taught. Nor did the Jews like what He said. They started to quarrel. (Jn 6:52). But Jesus did not back up and start symbolizing. Instead, He doubled down:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.’” (Jn 6:53-54). When our Great High Priest offers His flesh as “true food” and His blood as “true drink” (Jn 6:55), by what authority do I, in the face of the Incarnation and all the miracles to that point, start explaining away John Chapter 6 and the Eucharist? By God’s grace, the solid and substantial spiritual beat back the spirit of negation and denial. Blades of grass begin to feel better under foot.
Do you too want to leave?
It was not only the Docetists of the second century who could not abide Incarnate God’s flesh and blood. It was not merely the western-minded exegetes of the sixteenth century who built theologies out of negation and denial. The Jews of Jesus’ day likewise rejected His hard sayings. (Jn 6:60). “As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (Jn 6:66).
Please note, Jesus did not stop them from going away. Our Lord did not see those in retreat and correct Himself, giving deniers symbolic words as in my old Baptist Faith and Message. Our Lord does not stroke the rationalistic side of our minds, quickly reciting the Westminster Confession’s “non-corporeal” negation. Jesus let them walk away.
When you hear our Lord ask whether you too want to leave, reply with Simon Peter; indeed, reply with the whole Catholic Church: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68).
How else will we walk across Heaven’s green fields, until we have real feet?
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27
 All Scripture from The New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE)
* [6:54–58] Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: “munch,” “gnaw.” This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning “eat.” (NABRE)