The Gospel — John 6: 51-58
Three Biblical understandings of the Lord’s supper: 1) It is a memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection, a covenant sacrifice; 2) it is a continuation of Jesus’ earthy and post-resurrection meals in which the messianic banquet is anticipated; 3) it is a ritual extension of Jesus’ Incarnation. The bread and wine become the living body and blood of Christ in those who receive him into their lives. John’s gospel is emphasizing this idea. Through this Living Bread, Christ’s ongoing presence and life continue in the community – in the world.
Raymond Brown says that this passage is a profound proclamation of sacramental and Eucharistic theology. The living bread given by Christ is his own flesh. In ancient times flesh was understood to mean the totality of the person. John’s focus is on this flesh, the Word made flesh. The totality of Christ’s person, his complete life-force (blood), is the only food that gives life, an eternal life. The coming of Christ into the world is the supreme act of redemption.
“If Baptism gives us that life which the Father shares with the Son, then the Eucharist is food nourishing it.” Jesus promises to dwell within the hearts of believers – to abide within them. A mutual indwelling happens between Jesus and his disciples. This incredible act of intimacy (INTO-ME-SEE) with Jesus opens the door to life – eternal life. Flesh (sarx) is that which of itself leads to death. In Jesus this flesh, sarx, is transformed, redeemed, set free from natural destruction by the Spirit of Jesus. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year A, p.607)
Life is the most precious things we have. To share one’s life, then, is to share with another our deepest “I am.” This is how we remain in each other – through self-giving and, yes, participating in the common Meal. Jesus’ gift of life to us through our participation in his Body and Blood is not simply for our own sakes, but also for the sake of others. To receive this gift of life is to be compelled to give this gift to others. Giving of one’s life-force, one’s blood, is not so beyond our own human experience either. Every time a mother gives birth, she sheds her blood. Family members readily give blood for the transfusion of a loved one. Our public blood banks are testimony to the generous giving of blood by strangers to strangers. Heroes sometimes shed their blood trying to help or protect another. Living Liturgy, 2002, p. 161
From St. Irenaeus on the sacraments, written 220AD:
“For as the bread, which comes from the earth, receives the invocation of God, and then it is no longer common bread but Eucharist, consists of 2 things, an earthly and a heavenly; so our bodies, after partaking of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the eternal resurrection.”
And Tertullian, another ancient theologian:
“The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ that the soul may be fattened on God.”
And St. Cyril of Jerusalem:
“And while the moisture is still on your lips, touch them with your hands, and sanctify your eyes and forehead and the rest of your organs of sense. Then wait for the prayer, and give thanks to God who has counted you worthy of admission to those great mysteries.”
From The Eucharist in the New Testament and the EasrlyChurch, Eugene LaVerdiere:
“For John, the event is viewed primarily from the point of view of Christ’s personal presence, sustaining, challenging, nourishing, and uniting the Church on its journey to the Father…(p. 113) It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus is glorified, that the Father is present in him and that he reveals the Father. It is as the Word made flesh that Jesus dies, rose again, is exalted, and is now present to us in sacrament (p. 117).”
Ideas concerning Eucharist from The Vatican II document, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:
We have lost nothing
for not having lived during the time of Jesus’ life on earth . . .
We have everything that the first disciples had
to help us believe in Jesus . . .
Christ is always present in the Church . . .
In the Mass Christ is really present
in the minister
in the Eucharistic bread and wine,
in the proclaimed Word of God,
and in the whole community gathered to worship and pray . . .
The Liturgy is really a celebration of eternity, here and now.
It contains the entire mystery of faith:
it is food as pilgrims,
our hymn of praise,
our hope for partnership with God.
The sacred liturgy gathers together all who have gone before us
and all who will come after us
together with Jesus Christ . . .
It is the summit toward which the Christian life is directed
and the very source of that life to begin with.
It is a fount, from which grace is poured over us,
and a place to which we go for reconciliation . . .
The faithful who come to Liturgy must be well disposed,
ready to participate, and actively engaged in the rites . . .
Because of their baptisms,
all the faithful have both a right and a duty
to full and active participation in the Liturgy . . .
The Scriptures are of greatest importance to the liturgical celebration,
so care should be taken in proclaiming them,
homilizing on them . . .
or praying inspired by them.
A warm and living love of the Scriptures is to be fostered.
(Chapter one, Art. 7, 8,10,11,14, & 24 – taken from Bill Huebsch’s Vatican II in Plain English: The Constitutions)
From Henri Nouwen in his book With Burning Hearts, p. 34-35; 80-97:
Eucharist presents us with an option: the possibility to choose in the midst of life’s mourning and pain, not resentment, but gratitude. Mourning our losses is the first step away from resentment toward gratitude. The tears of our grief can soften our hardened hearts and open us to the possibility to say ‘thanks.’ The word, “Eucharist” means literally “act of thanksgiving.” To celebrate Eucharist and to live a Eucharistic life has everything to do with gratitude. Living Eucharistically is living life as a gift . . . The great mystery we celebrate in the Eucharist is precisely that through mourning our losses we come to know life as a gift. The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately connected with its fragility and mortality.
In Eucharist we take the ‘bread and the wine’ of our lives and discover the ‘flesh and the blood’ of the Risen One: we take, bless, break and give; Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. Jesus is the fullness of the God who from the beginning of time has desired to enter into communion with us. Communion is what God wants and what we want, need. It is the deepest cry of God’s and our heart . . . and communion creates community. The God-in-us is now able to see the God-in-others. We begin to glimpse the ongoing incarnation of God – and we participate with gratitude and joy.