While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
– Mark 14:22-25
“I do not know and can’t imagine what the disciples understood our Lord to mean when, His body still unbroken and His blood unshed, He handed them the bread and wine, saying they were His body and blood… I find ‘substance’ (in Aristotle’s sense), when stripped of its own accidents and endowed with the accidents of some other substance, an object I cannot think… On the other hand, I get on no better with those who tell me that the elements are mere bread and mere wine, used symbolically to remind me of the death of Christ. They are, on the natural level, a very odd symbol of that… And I cannot see why this particular reminder- a hundred other things may, psychologically, remind me of Christ’s death, equally, or perhaps more – should be so uniquely important as all Christendom (and my own heart) unhesitatingly declare… Yet I find no difficulty believing that the veil between the worlds, nowhere else (for me) so opaque to the intellect, is nowhere else so thin and permeable to divine operation. Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul, but my body. Here the prig, the don, the modern, in me have no privilege over the savage or the child. Here is the big medicine and strong magic… The command, after all, was Take, eat: not Take, understand.”
– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (emphasis the author’s)
Most critics did not like Letters to Malcolm. Could the poor reviews be from Lewis publishing the work shortly before he passed away? At times, he is confusing; at times, maudlin. One could look on this passage and say that he didn’t like Holy Communion as a sacred rite, sacrament, ceremony, or any other categorization. But he betrays himself with the parenthetical inserts. In his heart, Lewis found great comfort in taking the bread and wine. As he says, it does not just involve our soul, but our body is involved as well. It is more complete worship of our God. It is God coming from behind the veil to touch us and dwell within us as the bread and wine enter the body. In thinking of it this way, it is more than symbolic.
Lewis is probably poking fun at his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, in this letter. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, believed that the wine and bread became blood and body, while the Protestant denominations consider them symbolic. It is said that Tolkien was very disappointed that after his detailed arguments with Lewis, Lewis chose to become an Anglican. In his jest, Lewis is saying, “What is the difference? Quit the argument. Do not try to understand. Just revel in the moment. God has not just come to us. He is within us. He has cleansed us of our sins. He has granted us eternal life with Him in heaven.”
Also, with the timing of Lewis’ death and the publishing of the book, this gave Lewis is last word on the subject. What fun!
As a self-professed intellect, prig, and modern, Lewis could not let the understanding of it stand unanswered (literal blood and flesh versus symbolic versus something else – which I think he leaned toward), but in the end, understanding makes no difference. Once you pass to the other side of the veil, you see the real Jesus.
Happy Maundy Thursday.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God Alone.