The whole title of this writeup is off.
I have been made aware that edits and entries should be self-contained, but the original title and entry supposes a question and invites an answer.
To make an extraordinarily complicated and oft-argued flogged dead horse concept as simple as possible:
- Nobody (well, nobody who belongs outside a padded room) believes that the bread and wine LITERALLY become human tissue and human blood.
- EDIT: After MULTIPLE complaints, allow me to clarify, I was shorthanding: the belief isn't that the material form (what you can objectively see/measure, etc) changes, but the "substance" or "essence" changes. From the Wikipedia entry on transubstantiation: When at his Last Supper, Jesus said: "This is my body", what he held in his hands still had all the appearances of bread: the "species" remained unchanged. However, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that, when Jesus made that declaration, the underlying reality (the "substance") of the bread was changed into that of his body.
- Monophysite (One nature) or Nestorian theology would imply that Godhead gains a fourth member of the Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and Pastry. This is also absurd.
- Those who believe in a Two nature/Chalcedonian theology would understand that the wine and bread are still wine and bread, but become infused/become also divine.
There is always more than one side/facet to a story, the whole "cannibalization of your savior" isn't one of them. Communion has, depending on tradition and personal preference, one or more aspects of the following:
- A ritual of remembrance - some people take it as simply doing something to mark an occasion, like putting flowers on a grave, or sending a card on Valentine's Day.
- A ritual of congregation - eating in the world in which this was instituted had an entire set of dimensions above and beyond simply consuming calories. If you ate with somebody, you were more than simply acquaintances with him or her. You were very good friends. This explains the horror the Pharisees had of Jesus going and eating with women and tax collectors - it wasn't just that he rated them as people or were courteous to them, but valued them by engaging in social customs with them that implied kinship and love. So in a church setting, where the highlight of the service was for everyone to approach the altar and literally eat together, was to erase all boundaries of social class, social custom, etc. It was an absolutely egalitarian move. The only ones excluded from eating at the table were the dogs held at bay by the altar rail (that was its original purpose).
- A ritual to bring one closer to God - if God could become present in the bread and wine, and you could consume and share in the divinity, you would be accepted by and given a spark of that divinity.
The question isn't exactly that flippant. I know of entire congregations, in fact even entire churches who don't do communion, because they think of the ritual as morbid and vampiric and cannibalistic in intent.
But keep in mind the word "spirit" in the New Testament is πνευμα - "pneuma", "breath" - the idea of something active. Moving. Inspired by one, exhaled and shared with another. The Star Wars
idea about "The Force" being all around us and shared with all sentient living creatures is a very very similar idea - even down to the religious mantra of the Jedi
being "The Force
be with you". Divinity isn't just something that lives on a throne "somewhere out there" called down into a wafer when ordered to by a priest
The whole thing takes on a different meaning when you look at it
as "God, if you can inhabit things and give them your nature, let me
partake, along with my friends and family, of your nature, and please,
come and dwell in me and change me, too." The point is not to gobble up the physical
body like a hyena attacking the carcass of an animal someone else has
killed, but to partake in the same spirit, the same promise, the same hope.