A sign of utter meekness is to have a heart peacefully and lovingly disposed toward someone who has been offensive, and a sure proof of a hot temper is that a man, even when he is alone, should with word and gesture continue to rage and fulminate against some absent person who has given offense. — St. John Climacus
The crowd in the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 goes through a number of twists and turns. They have come seeking bread. They have questioned Jesus. They have challenged him and murmured against him. Now they have turned their attention on each other. They are debating how Jesus can possibly “give them his flesh to eat.” Just as Nicodemus asked: “How can this be,” or the woman at well cries out: “How will you get this water, the well is deep and you have no bucket,” the crowd is now making an attempt at grasping Jesus’ words.
In all three cases, Jesus seems to not be interested in explaining “how” this can happen. He merely reasserts his claim. He is witnessing to heavenly realities (3:11) and it appears that earthly wisdom and early ways cannot explain.
That does not prevent earthly minds, even really good ones, from trying. St. Thomas Aguinas, having read a lot of Aristotle as was customary in his time, seeing that Aristotle had just been rediscovered, looked at the Eucharist and declared, based on Aristotelean reasoning, that the bread on the altar was the body of Jesus that merely, accidentally, looked and felt, and tasted like the bread it used to be. The outward appearance was the same but the inward substance had transcended its nature, it was replace. Transubstantiation was discovered.
John Calvin, having read a lot of Aristotle as was customary in his time, determined that Thomas had been wrong and that perfectly nothing happened to the bread and that Jesus must have meant the whole thing metaphorically here on earth but since Jesus bothered he must have meant our souls would commune with him in heaven when we eat with believing hearts of the Eucharist.
Ulrich Zwingli, having pretty much ignored Aristotle reading Duns Scotus and Occam, medieval philosophers who were not impressed with elaborate reasoning, instead, decided that the whole thing was basically much too complicated and therefore a waste of time and that Jesus meant that one ought to eat bread and drink wine with one another and remember the story of Jesus.
Martin Luther, having read a lot of Aristotle as was customary in his time along with Occam and Scotus and a bunch of Augustine, basically asked a very “Gospel of John” type question: “What did Jesus say?” Note, he did not ask: “How does Jesus make this happen,” but he asked: “What did Jesus say.” And doing that, say Gritsch and Jenson in their introduction to Lutheranism, Luther, Melanchthon and all in the Lutheran fold of the Reformation walked straight off the map of common philosophical thinking and into the realm of Faith that is humbled and submitted to God above.
To be honest, I draw a bit of a caricature of the various paths but in the basics are there. What is missing is the rest of the sometimes extensive (Aquinas wrote more books than anyone in his time) systematic thought. What is also missing is that for those other than Luther the Lord’s Supper did not occupy center stage. For Luther it was the prime testament of God toward humanity, so much that his own “testament,” the things he wanted to be remembered for, began with the Eucharist. It shows his unending commitment that in the end it was all about Faith.
Faith, bridges a chasm between earth and the heavenly abode of God. It has to. It is probably a never ending cause for laughter in heaven that we speculate about eternal life or about the thin places where that life eternal touches our time bound existence.
The moment comes, bread is held out by a hand that is ready to give it. Faith reaches up to receive exactly what the Lord has promised: Himself. All of himself: The Way, the Truth, and the Life. (J 14:6)
I do not want to be mistaken. We need theologians and we need to ask the right questions and work out the answers based on the witness that the saint left for us to ponder be they recorded in Scripture or other places.
But the important thing is Faith, not aligning theological ducks properly. Faith is submission to Christ and following him. If Christ says: “this is my body,” faith has no doubt or objection. Faith needs not wonder how. The answer is simple: “My Lord said it would be so. Who am I to now loose trust in his word? If I cannot trust him about this, how can I trust him about my place in God’s kingdom — my salvation?”
Ironically, Luther did not prove the other theologians of his day “wrong” by what he wrote and said. Aquinas is not “wrong.” The body and Blood of Christ are truly there. Calvin is not “wrong:” Our soul does rejoice and is strengthened in unseen and unknown ways by this communion. Zwingli is not “wrong,” the story is grasped and believed and lived by mother church in the Lord’s Supper. All are correct at the same time for all these things certainly happen. But, they happen because Jesus Christ, God from God, Light from Light, said clearly: This is my body, the heavenly food that your souls need for salvation. To say it was not so would deny his other promises as false and where then is our salvation, our life, our resurrection?
Faith says: It is so because I trust Jesus.
When you look at the Eucharist, what do you see there? What questions do you ask of God right then? Are any questions really called for? Where is you heart as you draw close?
You are about to touch God, you know . . . What thoughts might ought to be in your mind? Is not this the right question instead of “How?”