“And this bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.”
“And he shall be called Immanuel, that is, God with us.”
‘Many of his disciples when they heard this said, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?”’
What is the hard teaching?
I ask everyone who reads this to take a minute to consider this. Not so much whether it is hard to you (for it may not be), but what it is. What this is, that the world cannot accept.
Immanuel. God with us.
The Bread of Life. The Redemption.
That God became man, became one with us mortals, offers Himself, body and soul, without hesitation or restraint or exception, to us to be the Life and the Resurrection of all.
Consider that for a moment. What that means. Not that any of us can ever fathom or comprehend it fully, but as much as you may.
And then consider that it is this which is the focus of every heresy, it is this which, for whatever reason, is the great stumbling block. It is this which, in many guises and in many ways, people – or whatever other force it may be – attempt to obscure when they may sometimes be unwilling to outright deny.
It is this against which the heresy of Arianism was set, the teaching that Jesus was not, in fact, Immanuel, God with us, but a ‘lesser god,’ the greatest of created beings. Because how could God, to Whom is all Power, the One, the Indivisible, Independent From All and Without Need, in Whom is all Sufficiency, become a human, suffer, die?
It is against this also that the heresy of Gnosticism was set, holding that the humanity, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus was but an appearance, not a reality.
It is because this is such a hard teaching to so many that even from the early days of the community of believers the notion of a priesthood developed, obscuring and diminishing the glory of Immanuel, God with us, the glory as of the only-begotten from the Father dwelling among us. The doctrine that a priest is necessary to partake of the body and blood of Immanuel in the forms of bread and wine is a way to diminish the Gift of God, to make it less of an offense against whatever sensibilities it offends.
It is because so many are offended by the Gift of God that others teach that our Communion is only a sign without reality, or that we are not in fact made partakers of the divine nature, united with the Son and healed of all sin – that redemption or justification is only legal (as if legality and legal fictions were not an invention of man that has nothing at all to do with the Divine Nature).
Every reason that I have ever heard given for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (or the Orthodox belief that She Who Bore God in the Flesh never sinned) likewise appeals to this protest that the Incarnation is a hard teaching. It is a heresy against Immanuel, a slur on the bounty of God, and a direct, if implicit, denial of the Atonement and Redemption to say that it was not fitting that God be born of a sinner. If that is so, none of it is fitting. It is not fitting that God should die, that God should suffer the consequences of sin, that God should bear our sins and our wounds. If that is what you believe – that it is not fitting to the grace of God that He should be conceived and born of a sinner – then do not say that you believe in Jesus Immanuel until you have changed your mind!
This is not about Mary. This is not about whether or not she was holy. This is about what you think about Jesus! This is about whether you are willing to accept His Gift, or whether you wish to say the foolishness that was taught by the Devil’s Lie, that it is “too good to be true.” This is about whether you are willing to accept the humiliation of God, by which He shows us His glory – that He loves all without limit and His love conquers all. That He loves us enough to bear all our sins, to bear anything we might choose to do to Him, to accept whatever unthinkable way we repay His love, and so to love us to the very end and bring us back into His love. He withholds from us nothing of Himself.
And if you think that you need someone else, some priest or bishop or pastor, to experience the glory of Immanuel, the fullness of the Bread of Life, then realize that you, too, have said, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” and then found a way to make it more acceptable to yourself instead of accepting the utter bounty of God’s Gift: that He is here with us, to be crucified by us and for us, and so redeem us, to give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink.
Do not say it is to prevent disrespect. Do not say it would be disrespectful to take God in your hand. Not if you believe that He has taken all your sins and all your wounds on Himself and redeemed you. Not if you believe that He wishes to make Himself at home in your sin-damaged soul and sanctify you with His Life. Mourn if you will over the disrespect, callousness, and hate with which His Love is received, but do not say that He has not the right to make Himself subject to our sins. Do that say He has not done so, not if you believe that He was crucified! Not if you believe in Immanuel. Do not say that it is to protect His precious Gift from sacrilege. Mourn if you will that He is not better loved, but do not say that He loves the less because His beloved repays His love with scorn – or lest His beloved repay His love with scorn! Do not say that He is not willing to – has not – submitted His love to the scorn of His beloved! He Who was crucified for us.
He is Immanuel. He came to us to be close to us. Never keep your distance from Him because you are afraid of approaching Him in your sins, and never say that He keeps His distance from you or from others, or wishes others to keep their distance from His Gift, because of sins.
If you do not believe, be honest that you do not believe. If you wish to believe, cry out, “Lord, I believe, help me to believe,” and take His Gift! Believe as much as you can!
Copyright ©2022 Raina Nightingale