Do Christians Practice Cannibalism When They Participate in Holy Communion (Lord's Supper)?
The Basis of the Allegation
"And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:17-20)
The above utterance of Jesus has caused mixed reactions among non-Christians who term Christians as cannibals because of heeding Jesus' words. In effect, does it mean when Christians eat any form of baked flour or drink any acceptable cold beverage, they're literally eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood?
Jesus urged his disciples, and subsequently newly converted followers, to be in the habit of 'eating his body' and 'drinking his blood.' They should do the stated action together, in their gatherings, as often as possible. Thus, Christians are everyday cannibals when they engage the said activity.
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)
What is Cannibalism?
Cannibalism refers to the act of eating the flesh of a human being. It is not restricted to eating the outer part of a human body but also internal organs. The definition has been extended to zoology to include animals eating meat of their own kind.
History is filled with records of communities or tribes who were involved in cannibalism. Whether it was out of necessity (hunger/starvation) or as a ritual, by eating a human flesh then it is downright cannibalism.
Generally, Christians would be practising cannibalism if they were literally eating the body of Jesus and drinking his blood. There is a difference between a symbol used to represent something and literally eating that thing.
First of all, it is worth noting the Bible is rich in the use of figurative language. Normally, a writer or speaker employs figurative language in order to explain an idea in a manner a reader or listener can connect the dots and find out what message or idea the speaker or writer was trying to convey.
Hearst Seattle Media states: "Using figurative language is an effective way of communicating an idea that is not easily understood because of its abstract nature of complexity. Although figurative language does not offer a literal explanation, it can be used to compare one idea to a second idea to make the first idea easier to visualize. Figurative language also is used to link two ideas with the goal of influencing an audience to see a connection even if one does not exist."
In the above verses, Jesus has employed symbolism as a literary technique to convey a message which should act as a reminder to Christians the reason he has to die on the cross as prophesied by prophets hundreds of years before he was born. By eating bread and drinking an acceptable drink, the bread symbolizes Jesus body and the drink symbolizes his blood. Thus, "Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities, by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. Symbolism can take different forms. Generally, it is an object representing another, to give an entirely different meaning that is much deeper and more significant." (LiterallyDevices)
We are familiar with different symbols that are used in various parts of the world to represent something. Red color represents blood, black color represents black people or evil, white color represents white people or peace, a dove represents peace and chains symbolize oppression.
When Christians congregate and participate in the requested activity, it serves different purposes. It doesn't represent literally eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood as we've seen from the above definitions. The purpose of continually participating in this activity is to:
1. Remind Christians of the ultimate price Jesus had to pay. Jesus was crucified on the cross as a form of sacrifice so that we can be forgiven of our sins once and for all. In the Old Testament the Jewish people were required to present an innocent lamb to the appointed priest(s). The lamb would be sacrificed thus acting as a sign God has forgiven the individual or the nation of Israel as a whole for rebelling against him or disobeying his commands. This was temporal sacrifice. Jesus crucifixion acts as a permanent sacrifice. Subsequently, Christians are not required to seek a human priest for a sacrifice to be made. They can approach the throne of God through prayer and ask God for forgiveness.
2. Remind Christians the theme of crucifixion. Thus, they are to share the Gospel, Good News, 'For God so loved the world that He gave His begotten Son that whatsoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.' (John 3:16) The Good News is there is meaning and purpose of our existence, there is life after death (eternal life), God loves us and we can approach Him directly without the need of a human mediator. Jesus is the mediator. He is the High Priest. He has made it possible for people to approach God without requiring a human figure to do so on our behalf.
3. Encourage Christians to stick together, to persevere in the footsteps of God and not to take lightly what Jesus did for humanity.
The death of Jesus on the cross is the theme of Christianity. If Jesus didn't die then humanity would still remain in darkness, enslaved by the world and having no hope of anything in this life and the afterlife.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)
In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new convenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11:25)
The Old Convenant involved animal sacrifice but the New Convenant doesn't require animal sacrifice. This accounts for the reason the veil of the temple that was near the area Jesus was crucified was torn into two. It indicates we no longer require animal sacrifice or a human priest to approach the throne of God.
For this is My blood of the convenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Mathew 26:27-28)
Animal sacrifice was temporal because it was limited. On the other hand, Jesus sacrifice on the cross by shedding blood was a permanent cover for sins. There would be no need of continuously offering animal sacrifice for remission of sins.
In relation to Jesus: First, Jesus was spotless. He didn't commit any sin. Second, we identify with Jesus because we are sinners. We keep on sinning. We are vulnerable to it. We feel the need to get rid of the guilt that is eating us up inside. Third, we inflicted death upon Jesus because of our sins. It was as a result of our sins that led to his death on the cross, a form of sacrifice.
Jesus as part of Godhead came in form of human being in order to feel what every human being feels: suffering, pain and afflictions. This is the reason why he was the best substitute for animal sacrifice. This is also the reason why when Adam and Eve sinned, God knew using animals as sacrifice for the covering of sin was temporary. He had in mind the perfect and complete sacrifice, in Jesus.
Real Meaning of Last Supper
Therefore, when they (emph. Christians) take wine(juice) to represent Jesus' blood and bread (biscuit) to represent his body, it acts as a reminder of the central message of Christianity and everything it carries: THE CROSS.
"... Jesus Christ did not have to die for us. He did, however, because He values every life on earth and wants to see each of us sitting at His dining table someday in heaven. The Last Supper reminds us of Christ's sacrifice, and that by faith in Him, we can dine with Christ for all eternity."