This is one that even as a Baptist always gave me pause. I would say that the elements at Communion were symbols, because they are at least that. But does it go farther? I have to admit that I have always had trouble with John chapter 6 where Jesus says that he is the bread of life, and that in order to recieve eternal life you must eat his flesh, and drink his blood. The Jews then are puzzled by this saying and began to leave. Jesus then says it again, with emphasis, and even many who previously had believed, turned away. Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to leave him too. Peter then says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

If Jesus had only meant that the bread and the wine at Communion were only symbols, then why didn’t he tell these people? I understand that he may not have told the Jews for the same reason that he didn’t explain most of his parables to them, “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt 13:13). But why doesn’t he then explain it to his disciples who were turning away? After all only a couple of verses later in Matthew, He says that these are not hidden from his disciples–“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

The answer is that it is NOT hidden. It is exactly what it says it is. That the bread and the wine are actually the body and blood of the Lord is the only interpretation that makes sense given the reaction by the crowd, Jesus, and the Twelve.

The thing is, virtually NO ONE ever questioned the elements as being anything other than the actual body and blood of the Lord until the Reformation. All of the earliest Church Fathers, from the first century on up believed it was the body and blood of Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, who had been a disciple of the apostle John and who wrote a letter to the Smyrnaeans about A.D. 110, said, “Judgement is prepared for” …(those who) “abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” (6:2, 7:1).