On the night Christ was betrayed by Judas, Our Lord celebrated the Passover with all of his brothers, including the traitor himself. Other than the disciple Jesus loved, eleven of His chosen men would later abandon him. In light of the cowardice the apostles show as the night progresses, we can see just how gracious Christ’s words are when He says at the institution of the Eucharist: “This is my body, given for you.” The Eucharistic gift of the Lord’s body is handed on a plate to the very men who will be “ashamed of Him” (Mark 8:38).
The Last Supper is the only time someone in Holy Scripture uses the exact phrase: “This is my body, given for you.” However, the entire biblical story can be summarized by riffing on those words. We can revisit all the major moments of the story and find someone communicating the same message.
At the dawn of mankind, our first parents were not created individually and separately “from the dust of the ground” – only man was (Genesis 2:7). Instead, God put the already-created Man into a deep sleep, removed his rib, and created the Woman (2:21-22). Once the Man woke up from the surgical operation, he first laid eyes on the Woman. By submitting to God’s operation, the first Man was telling the first Woman, “This was my body, given for you.”
Later in the book of Genesis, God makes an unconditional promise to Abraham that he would bless the nations through his family. Despite the fact that he and his wife Sarai are beyond childbearing age, Abraham believes and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Years after this initial promise, God reaffirms the covenant with Abraham through a sign: the circumcision of his foreskin. “For the generations to come, every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised” (Genesis 17:12). God makes a demand on Abraham’s body, on the very member that will unite with his wife and conceive Isaac.
Abraham wasted no time: “On that very day, Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised (Genesis 17:23-24).” As the knife was held to his body, the father of the Jews could have said these words to the Lord: “This is my body, given for you.”
The mother of Our Lord is famous for her fiat mihi. “Let it be unto me according to thy Word” (Luke 1:38). But the angel Gabriel’s prophecy is not just about Jesus, but about the body of His mother. With her body, the Virgin would conceive, carry, give birth to, and nurse her Son. Like her father Abraham’s circumcision, God is making a demand on the very member that nurtures her son: the womb.
And yet, the human response made by Abraham and Mary is a gift given to the Lord in faith and obedience. The daughter of Abraham is now giving her body to a vocation, which is to gestate God. In effect, Mary says to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “This is my body, given for you.” At that very moment, the “Word became flesh” in Mary’s body (John 1:14).
Jesus has seven famous sayings on the cross. The last one is recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Even though Christ is offering more than his body to God the Father, He is not offering less than his body. From the time the mob arrests Jesus up until his dying breath, the body of Our Lord is dragged, beaten, spat on, whipped, stripped, and mocked with a costume designed for humiliation. The crucifixion is not instant or spiritual; it is preeminently designed to torture the body of Jesus.
Christ communicates with His passion, “This is my body, given for you.” This time, Christ’s words have two audiences in mind. First, Jesus gives his body to his Father as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2). The body of Jesus is also given for “them” – the crowds calling for his crucifixion who do not know what they do (Luke 23:34). Our Lord’s crucifixion is the gift of his body to the Heavenly Father and His sinful sons and daughters on earth.
The church – in all its members – takes these words to heart and puts them into action. Every Christian marriage begins with vows along these same lines. “With my body, I honor you” is a rephrasing of “This is my body, given for you.” Each nuptial union puts flesh to these words pronounced on the wedding day. Even those who commit to celibacy pronounce these same words to the Lord in the moment of their vows to him. Each monk, nun, and priest has claimed Christ as Bridegroom by promising, “This is my body, given for you – and not a husband or wife.”
The martyrs of the Church, without ever needing to say a word, communicate this truth with their glorious deaths. Faced with a choice to deny the Lord, they do not consider their bodies “something to be used for their own advantage” but “become obedient to death” (Philippians 2:6-8). Like mirror images of their Lord, the martyrs say to Him, “This is my body, given for you.” Paul almost quotes Jesus when he writes to the Colossian Christians: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24).
The only exception to this rule comes at the end of all things. When Christ returns, He will raise us from the dead. This time, our Lord will say to us, “This is your body, given to you.” He gives the gift he already gave – and yet the glory of the second gift is greater than the first. The risen and glorified resurrected bodies which we will enjoy at the Eschaton are a re-gift from God.
Circumcision, incarnation, crucifixion, Pentecost, baptism, marriage, celibacy, martyrdom, and resurrection are all one story: one person gives the body to another person.
This re-telling of the Bible puts the lie to an article of secular faith, which is: “My body is my own.” Nothing could be further from the truth. God gave me my body at my conception through the mutual gift my father and mother made to each other. The God-man gave us His body two thousand years ago and re-presents His body to the church each Sunday around the Lord’s Table. Christ gives the Church, His body, to me in the form of brothers and sisters unified by the Holy Spirit.
The body is a gift – all the way down. A gift given from the beginning that we must give back to God, our wives, our husbands, our children, our neighbors, and sometimes even our enemies. Even death, which will take everybody someday, cannot take away the gift of the body forever. Therefore, we know that we are not your own because we “were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
This is quite beautiful. Thank you for writing and sharing it.