If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: “In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”
We are his members and we are nourished by creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall, He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that “we are members of his body,” of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of person, “for spirits do not have flesh and bones.” He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.
The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.
Against Heresies 5, 2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38
Saint Irenaeus, a late second-century Christian commentator and apologist, was bishop of Lyons and a spiritual grandson of the Apostles, having studied under Polycarp who in turn had studied under the Apostle John, one of the original twelve Apostles of Christ. So we can have great confidence that he received the real teachings of the Lord. Here he speaks of the relationship between Holy Eucharist and the Resurrection of the body that Christ’s Resurrection signals.
Resurrection, as Saint Irenaeus reminds us, is about new bodily existence, not living forever as a spirit without a body. His logic above is straightforward: The Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ after it has been consecrated, signals a new created order in which our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and reanimated by the Holy Spirit to live forever in God’s direct presence (1 Corinthians 15.35-50; Revelation 21.1-7). If the Eucharist consists of created elements (bread and wine) that are Christ’s body and blood after they are consecrated, it makes no sense that they would point to a state of existence (eternal life) that is spiritual rather than physical in nature. Just as consecrated bread and wine signal a new creation, Resurrection signals a new created order, one that is entirely consistent with God’s original good intentions for his creation. We get to live in that new order only by having a relationship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus because only Christ’s Death can cleanse us of the sin and filth that prevent us from living in the Presence of a Holy God. Every time we come to Christ’s Holy Table to feed on his body and blood, we are strengthened in our living relationship with Christ and reminded of our glorious future because of his great love and sacrifice for us. What could possibly be better and more hopeful?
If you are a Christian, the next time you are beaten down by the news and events of today (they are legion) and start to lose hope, do as Saint Irenaeus and countless other Christians have done: Remember what Christ has done for you in his saving Death and the future awaiting you that his Resurrection proclaims. If you are not a Christian, consider how much better this hope and future is than the one of your own making, and choose to follow Christ.
Listen and understand if you have ears to hear.
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