-by Ken Hensley
“For not as common bread or common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food that has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnated Jesus. – Justin Martyr
My journey to the Eucharist began when I read the early Church Fathers—really read them—for the first time and found myself faced with the reality that what theologians refer to as the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist appeared to have been the doctrine of Christianity from the beginning.
A few of these earliest witnesses—mainly bishops and apologists—were either direct disciples of the Apostles or disciples of disciples of the Apostles. All of them that described the Eucharist described it in terms that made it abundantly clear to me that for them the Eucharist was not a simple meal of remembrance and proclamation.
For them, it was a miraculous meal. St. Ignatius, bishop of the Church in Antioch, who as a young man had been personally instructed in the faith by the Apostle John speaks of the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality.”
This had been the doctrine of the early Church, and it continued to be the doctrine of the Church, in both the East and the West, essentially until the time of Reformation in the 16th century.
Discovering this was step one for me.
Step two was returning to the New Testament, re-examining everything the New Testament writers had to say about the Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) and finding that it was entirely consistent with what the early Church seems to have believed.
Now, given my commitment at the time to the foundational Protestant principle of sola Scriptura—that we look to Scripture alone to authoritatively determine Christian doctrine—if I had discovered that the New Testament teaching on the Eucharist contradicted belief in the Real Presence, I might have been able to ignore what I had seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers. After all, it didn’t cross my mind back then to think that the faith of the early Church, as revealed in her doctrine, worship and practice, might provide compelling evidence of what the Apostles had actually taught their Christian communities.
But this didn’t happen.
I began by looking at the key passage on the topic in St. Paul’s writings: 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. Not only did I find nothing there that contradicted the “miraculous meal” conception of the early Church, there was at least one passage that seemed to lend positive support to the notion. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 10:1-6, where the Apostle draws a direct line between the Eucharist and the supernatural food and drink provided the Israelites in their journey through the wilderness.
Although Paul’s message to the believers in Corinth is implied, it is nevertheless quite clear: The Israelites were baptized into Moses and received supernatural food and drink from God and yet did not make it to the Promised Land. You Corinthian Christians need to beware. You likewise may have been baptized into Jesus Christ. You may have received your own supernatural food and drink (the Eucharist!), but none of this guarantees that you will inherit the Promised Land of heaven if you choose to imitate the Israelites in their unbelief and disobedience.
It seems that when Paul thought about the Lord’s Supper, while he certainly thought about remembering Christ’s death and proclaiming it (1 Cor 11:23-26), he also thought about supernatural food and drink, manna falling from heaven to feed God’s people and water springing up from a rock to quench their thirst.”