Sacrifices were always meant to be a part of our daily lives as Christians. Unlike what many teach, sacrifice was not done away with at the cross. The Apostle Paul writes “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” (Hebrews 7:12). The Apostle Paul is not saying that sacrifice was done away with, he is stating that there was a change from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law (Romans 7:6); a change from the blood of sheep and goats that could not cleanse the conscience, which was only symbolic for the present time (Hebrews 9:9). Jesus Christ is the true sacrifice and by partaking of Him, our conscience is cleansed (Hebrews 9:14). We take part in that sacrifice by eating His flesh and drinking His blood (John 6:53-55) and by doing so, we will have partaken of his body which is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). The eating of the body of Christ is largely considered to be done by having communion and partaking of the Eucharist. The Eucharist to the Early Church is the bloodless sacrifice that we partake of. Today, the mystery of the Eucharist is mostly taught that the wafer we eat is symbolic of the Lord’s body, when in reality it is the Word of God that is the true Eucharist.
The Didache gives instruction on how we are to partake of the Eucharist in a worthy manner, which was practiced on the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day is the day our Messiah resurrected.
But every Lord’s day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.
But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned.
For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. (1)
These instructions were to warn us in how we can profane the sacrifice of His Word. The prophet Malachi reveals God’s wrath on the priesthood at the end of the age, who are offering the Lord profane sacrifices and perhaps, the most frightening facet is that they do not even understand how they are robbing God (Malachi 1:6-14). Notice if there was a conflict with one of the brethren and it was not settled quickly, they were not even allowed amongst the assembly. Yet this is not really new, as Jesus taught that we are to leave our gift at the altar until any conflict with a brother is settled (Matthew 5:21-26). We all should have a fear of robbing God. He stands in no need of these sacrifices; in reality we are the beneficiaries, because God is teaching us how to sanctify our souls through sacrifice. It is not about the blood of sheep and goats (Hebrews 10:4); it is our conscience that God truly desires a sacrifice from.
Sacrifices, therefore, do not sanctify a man, for God stands in no need of sacrifice; but it is the conscience of the offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when it is pure, and thus moves God to accept [the offering] as from a friend. “But the sinner,” says He, “who kills a calf [in sacrifice] to Me, is as if he slew a dog.” (Isa_66:3) (2)
This is why Christ commands us to leave our gift at the altar, until our issues with our brethren are resolved. How can we say we love God through our sacrifices, having an appearance of holiness, but hate our brother in our heart? We would be liars and our sacrifices are of no effect, in fact they are worthless (1 John 4:20). Offering a sacrifice to the Lord with hate in our heart, would be no different than slaying a dog or a pig on the altar of God. Our conscience is what qualifies us to bring sacrifice and the very medium to bring a perfect sacrifice without spot, wrinkle, or blemish unto the LORD. If we do not understand this and we come without a pure conscience, we will deceive ourselves thinking that we are giving God a pure sacrifice, thinking we have a sincere love for God and are assisting His servants accomplish His will on the earth. We should all tremble in fear with the following words, and be grave in our inspection to correct any wrong in our soul and with any brother (or sister).
For at the beginning God had respect to the gifts of Abel, because he offered with single-mindedness and righteousness; but He had no respect unto the offering of Cain, because his heart was divided with envy and malice, which he cherished against his brother, as God says when reproving his hidden [thoughts], “Though thou offerest rightly, yet, if thou dost not divide rightly, hast thou not sinned? Be at rest;” (Gen_4:7, LXX) since God is not appeased by sacrifice. For if any one shall endeavor to offer a sacrifice merely to outward appearance, unexceptionably, in due order, and according to appointment, while in his soul he does not assign to his neighbor that fellowship with him which is right and proper, nor is under the fear of God; — he who thus cherishes secret sin does not deceive God by that sacrifice which is offered correctly as to outward appearance; nor will such an oblation profit him anything, but [only] the giving up of that evil which has been conceived within him, so that sin may not the more, by means of the hypocritical action, render him the destroyer of himself. (3)
God is not fooled! We can pretend all we want to those around us and convincingly perform hypocritical sacrifices that may have a form of godliness, but they deny the power (2 Timothy 3:5) to sanctify our very souls, because of unwillingness to confront the disputes that we have within our soul. It is a terrifying thought that we can go to hell because we refuse to wash our soul and would rather steal from God than master the vices that keep us from drawing near to God, giving Him the sacrifices that He truly desires; clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:4). We are not worthy to be partakers of the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist unless our conscience is cleansed. This is why the catechumen (new converts) and the penitent men (those who were baptized into the faith and were going through a process of repentance because they sinned), were not allowed to partake of the secrets/sacraments.
Now that we have an understanding of how we are to take this sacrifice in a worthy manner, let us see what the sacrifice of Eucharist represents.
It is somewhat difficult to show the difference between the vine and bread, for He says, not only that He is the vine, but that He is the bread of life. May it be that as bread nourishes and makes strong, and is said to strengthen the heart of man, but wine, on the contrary, pleases and rejoices and melts him, so ethical studies, bringing life to him who learns them and reduces them to practice, are the bread of life, but cannot properly be called the fruit of the vine, while secret and mystical speculations, rejoicing the heart and causing those to feel inspired who take them in, delighting in the Lord, and who desire not only to be nourished but to be made happy, are called the juice of the true vine, because they flow from it. (4)
The sacrifice of the Eucharist has nothing to do with bread and wine. If we really think that God desires us to physically drink bread and wine, we may as well go back to sacrificing rams and oxen. The physical act of these sacrifices are utterly meaningless (Hebrews 9:9). Not to disregard the physical act of taking the Eucharist, however, by knowing the symbolic gesture, we can partake with the understanding that the true Eucharist is the Word of God. Origen was not the only church father to perceive this mystery of the Eucharist.
And therefore, the oblation of the Eucharist is not a carnal one, but a spiritual; and in this respect it is pure. For we make an oblation to God of the bread and the cup of blessing, giving Him thanks in that He has commanded the earth to bring forth these fruits for our nourishment. And then, when we have perfected the oblation, we invoke the Holy Spirit, that He may exhibit this sacrifice, both the bread the body of Christ, and the cup the blood of Christ, in order that the receivers of these antitypes (similitude) may obtain remission of sins and life eternal. Those persons, then, who perform these oblations in remembrance of the Lord, do not fall in with Jewish views, but, performing the service after a spiritual manner, they shall be called sons of wisdom. (5)
Irenaeus was in agreement with Origen, (be mindful that Origen was from Alexandria, Egypt and Irenaeus was from Lyon, France) that the Eucharist, the sacrament, the communion (all the same) was to be performed spiritually and that the physical bread and wine were in no way capable of sanctifying us, or impart knowledge to us. How excellent is His goodness! Let this understanding enlighten you and may this discourse be good and nourishing to our bodies (inner man) amen!
- Didache Ch. XIV, Vol. 7
- Irenaeus-Against Heresies Book 4 Ch. XVIII Vol. 1
- Irenaeus-Against Heresies Book 4 Ch. XVIII Vol. 1
- Origen-Commentary on the Gospel of John Book 1 Pt. 2 Vol. 9
- Irenaeus-Fragments Ch. XXXVII, Vol. 1