Updated: Jul 22
In our tradition, we have several hymns appropriate for singing during the Eucharistic feast, as we receive Christ in the Body and Blood. One such hymn, Let Thy Blood in Mercy Poured (John Browlie), speaks of the blood outpoured and the body broken as tokens of Christ's boundless love. The bread and wine of communion allow us to participate in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the actual offering of His Body and Blood for the life of the world – the world that He loves with an everlasting love. In speaking of these tokens, the hymn uses language of marriage, much like wedding rings are signs and tokens of the love shared by a husband and wife. They are a reminder to each other and to the world of the vows made by which they have bound themselves to each other for life. Similar but yet more glorious are the tokens of the Lord's Table.
Christ has given Himself for us, and we in return give ourselves to Him. We celebrate our life with Christ each time we partake of the Body and Blood. It is life-giving, nurturing food for our faith, for our souls. It renews and celebrates the covenant between the Church and Christ in much the same way that the marital embrace renews and celebrates in a life-giving way the covenant between husband and wife.
Here I digress (but not really) to St John's gospel account of the crucifixion of Jesus. His gospel, the chronologically last of the four, is the only one to mention the piercing of Jesus' side with the spear and the blood and water that poured out as a result. St John states that he was a personal witness to its occurrence. It's like he's swearing an oath. This lets us know how significant he sees the matter. What was he trying to tell us? Anything beyond the fact that Jesus was really dead?
It's interesting the near-unanimous understanding of the side-piercing by the early Church Fathers. Nineteenth century priest and scholar George Leo Haydock comments: The holy Fathers say, that the spouse of Jesus Christ was here taken out of His side whilst sleeping on the cross, as Eve was from Adam's side, when he was cast asleep in Paradise. Thus (as an example) St Augustine: This second Adam bowed His head and fell asleep on the cross, that a spouse might be formed for Him from that which flowed from the sleeper's side. Augustine likens the blood and water to the sacraments of Baptism (water) and Eucharist (blood), which are the formal means by which the Church is constituted.
Certainly the New Testament Scriptures speak of the Church as the Bride of Christ, and of Jesus as the Second or New Adam. Just as there could be no first marriage of the first man without the first woman, so there can be no Heavenly Wedding Feast without a Bride for the Bridegroom. Just as Eve was constituted of the flesh and bone of Adam, so the new Eve, the Church, is constituted of the Body and Blood of Christ. And just as it was not good for the first man to be alone in his task of stewarding the world and manifesting the image of God, so the redemption of the world and the imaging of God in the new humanity is not best done by Christ alone but is accomplished as he lovingly works through his beloved Bride the Church.
So back to the hymn and the tokens of the Eucharistic feast: a celebration of the Body and Blood by which the Bride has been formed; an anticipation of the great Wedding Feast in glory when the union will at last be consummated.