"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever."
It is often suggested that the consumption of Jesus' flesh and blood referred to in this passage is simply a graphic way of illustrating faith in Him. The parallel between verses 40 and 54 is used to defend this interpretation:
"For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." (verse 40)
"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (verse 54)
The trouble with this interpretation is that Jesus insists in verse 55 that his flesh is "true food" and his blood is "true drink". Verse 54 is expanding on verse 40 by explaining how we ought to go about beholding the Son. I would prefer to stick with the traditional view, namely that when the Church celebreates holy communion, she receives and is nourished by the real body and blood of Christ. It is a little known fact that this is the standard protestant view. For example, in John Calvin's 'Institutes' (book 4, chapter 17), he writes that:
"In his sacred supper he bids men take, eat and drink his body and blood under the symbols of bread and wine."
The Apostle Paul has a similar view on the matter:
"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 the Reformers were protesting was the belief that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Christ. They rightly denounced this belief as mere superstition. What is often missed though is that prior to the reformation, the Roman Catholic Church denied the supper to most of its members. Only the ordained priesthood were considered holy enough to eat the body and blood of Christ. The Reformers insisted, to the contrary, that all believers are priests in the household of God and so all can share in the supper.
The Lord's Supper should be absolutely crucial to the way we do church. We ought to celebrate it every week, being nourished by Jesus' body and blood for eternal life, but instead many evengelical churches only celebrate it once a month. Some celebrate it even less than this and some denominations have gone so far as to abandon the supper altogether. This cannot continue. The life and health of the Church are at stake if we fail to "come together to eat" (1 Corinthians 11:33).