|The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Photo Credit: Daniel Ciucci
Today we continue with our hearing of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the “Bread of Life Discourse” as it’s called that we began two weeks ago and will continue for another couple of Sundays. Recall where we’ve been. Two weeks ago we heard of the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 men with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus then walks on the sea and crosses over with his disciples to the other side. The crowds follow him because they are hungry. Jesus teaches them to look for food that does not perish but will bring eternal life. That is where we pick up today. Today Jesus reaches the heart of his teaching on the bread of life, the Eucharist, his own body and blood when He says today, “I am the living bread came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Now what exactly does Jesus mean by this? Jesus is telling the crowds that He is going to bring life to all by becoming the bread of life through His own flesh, His own body which we are to eat. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, which Jesus will institute at the Last Supper before His death and resurrection.
So how are we to understand what Jesus means? There are two different ways to understand what Jesus is saying here. The first is the typical protestant view that Jesus was only speaking symbolically. When He referred to His flesh as bread for the life of the world, he was only speaking in metaphors and wasn’t being literal. But this interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that Jesus never says that the bread of life is like His flesh and body either here or at the Last Supper. At the Last Supper Jesus says “This is my body” and “This is my blood” not “This is a symbol of my body” or “This is like my blood.” The second way of understanding what Jesus means is to see that Jesus isn’t speaking symbolically, but literally; the bread of life, the Eucharist, is Jesus’ literal body and blood. While Jesus does use many metaphors to describe himself like referring to himself as the gate, the good shepherd, the vine, among others, He always goes on to clarify what he means by them (see John 10:9, 10:11, 15:1). Not here. Here in this Gospel Jesus doesn’t clarify, he just re-emphasizes the fact that He is the Bread of Life. He goes on to say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (John 6:53). This causes quarreling among the Jews who couldn’t accept the literal message Jesus was giving (as you will hear this in next Sunday’s Gospel). If Jesus was speaking only symbolically, it would be easy to accept the teaching, just like Jesus’ many other metaphors. But the fact that Jesus’ teaching caused quarreling reveals that Jesus was not speaking symbolically, but literally; Jesus’ body is the bread of life for the world which we are to eat literally, a teaching that is quite confusing and hard to accept, seen clearly in the Jews’ negative response.
So why is the fact that the Eucharist is Jesus’ literal body and blood important for us? Because in this great Sacrament of the Eucharist we have both the source and summit of our Christian life (CCC 1324). In the Eucharist we encounter Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for each and every one of us.
So to help us understand I want to take a moment to step back and look at true, authentic love and how we, as humans, experience it. As physical creatures having both a body and a soul, we, as humans, experience love in and through our bodies. When you love someone you want to touch them, don’t you? Just think about it. Whether it’s a father or mother cradling their newborn child out of pure love to a young couple holding hands, sharing a good night kiss at the end of a date, we touch those whom we love as a revelation of that love. Even a stranger will experience this because most of us will shake hands with them. But the closer we know someone, the more we will touch them. I’ll hug my family and close friends but I probably won’t hug the stranger I meet at Andi’s Coffee House, but I will shake their hands, still acknowledging them as a human person in authentic love. Showing love through human touch is part of what makes us human. We are made for love and intimacy in and through our bodies. We are made to give of our very bodies in love to another. Married couples will understand this the best since they give their whole self to their spouse each and every day as an incredibly beautiful witness to the power of authentic love, one that reflects Jesus’ love for all of humanity through the Church.
So if we, by our very nature, are made for love and intimacy, how do we experience that with God, who is love itself and yet isn’t a physical body that we can approach and relate to and love as a human being? We experience this kind of intimacy with Jesus because He first did come in a body, through the incarnation when Jesus became man on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago. Jesus loved us in and through His body, giving His whole self to us through His passion and death on the cross for our salvation. Additionally, Jesus, who is God and who loves us so very much, left us a way to experience that same love He has for us even after He ascended bodily into heaven after His resurrection from the dead, now 2,000 plus years later. He did this through the institution of the Eucharist. Before he was given up to death he took bread, gave thanks, raised His eyes to heaven and said, “Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.” And similarly He took the cup of wine saying, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood…which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a way for all of us to experience His body in and through the Eucharist. Jesus’ body and blood is fully present in the bread and wine at each and every Celebration of the Eucharist. It is in receiving the Eucharist into our bodies that we are able to experience Jesus’ love for us in and through our bodies too.
|Jesus’ love in the Eucharist presented to the Father
at my diaconate ordination.
This is what Jesus is teaching us through this chapter in John’s Gospel. Jesus is quite literally the bread of life, come down from heaven to bring His life to everyone out of His great love for us. In and through the Eucharist He can touch each one of us with His love. We are to experience His love in a bodily way because we are bodily creatures and that is how we experience love as human beings. By eating Jesus’ flesh and blood in the Eucharist, we receive into our bodies the great love Jesus has for us through His body. This is a hard teaching that drove many Jews away from Jesus and prevents Protestants from experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ’s love for us and yet this is exactly what is at the heart of our Catholic faith. If we truly understood how great Jesus’ love is for us accessible through the Eucharist, our Churches would be packed each and every Sunday. As it is, many times the Eucharist is pushed aside and the focus at Mass is placed in the quality of the preaching, or the excitement of the music. If that is our focus at Mass we are missing out on the greatest love we can ever experience right here in the Eucharist, even if the experience of receiving the Eucharist is not necessarily life changing and the hosts taste simply like bread. In Jesus’ great love for us, He wants us to feel comfortable approaching Him in the Eucharist and to help with that God hides his divinity in the bread. Because if we truly saw the awesome glory of God’s love radiating out of the bread and from the tabernacle we would want to hide. We would feel unworthy of such great and awesome love and resist approaching the God who loves us. Jesus’ divinity is hidden within the Eucharist and yet that same love is still just as present, just as awesome, just as great. Jesus hides himself so we don’t have to. We approach the Eucharist as one who hungers for God’s love and receives it in a very real and bodily way. And that awesome, radiant, explosive love is contained in each and every crumb in the Eucharist. One crumb, one drop of blood that is consecrated on that altar is enough to save the world. Jesus gave his whole self to us and when we truly know that we cannot help but give our whole selves back to him. We are made for intimacy with Jesus! Intimacy with Jesus is found in and through the Eucharist.
|My first bodily experience of Jesus’ love
in the Eucharist.
As part of my ministry as a deacon here in Sheridan county this summer, which unfortunately comes to an end after this weekend, I have been privileged and blessed to visit the sick in the hospital and bring them the Eucharist since they are unable to come to Mass. During my first visit to the hospital in my first week here I encountered a woman who had a “NPO” (withhold oral foods: “nothing by mouth”) sign above her door. I had no idea what that meant and went in to talk to her anyways. We chatted for a bit and I asked her if she would like to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and she said yes. We had to call in the nurse to check if that was okay because I learned that “NPO” meant that she couldn’t receive food through her mouth. The nurse said that a small amount was perfectly fine so we went ahead and prayed and she received Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist. Her reaction was so beautiful, it was one of complete tranquility and happiness. She thanked me and told me that was the first substantial food she’d had in weeks and remarked that it was a great blessing to have her first substantial food be the Body of Our Lord Himself! Her faith was an inspiration to me because she knew that she was experiencing Jesus’ love through that tiny piece of the Eucharist she was able to eat.
|Receiving the Eucharist at the first Mass of Thanksgiving
of a newly ordained priest friend, Rev. Joe McLagan.
And so, my friends, as we approach the Eucharist today, I invite you to see the Eucharist in a new way. See Jesus’ radiant love descend upon the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Prayer and believe that Jesus’ true body and blood are contained within it just like the woman in the hospital did. Know that if you feel unworthy of God’s love, that is okay, we aren’t worthy of His love because of our sinfulness and yet God loves us anyways. He continually calls to conversion and wants us to come back to him. If you find yourself in the state of sin, go to the sacrament of confession first to receive Jesus’ love and mercy in the forgiveness of sins so that when you receive the Eucharist, Jesus’ love will not encounter barriers within your heart. God loves us so much and gives us his whole life for us, contained in the Eucharist. If you’ve never let Jesus truly love you before, do that today. Let Jesus love you and experience that love in the Eucharist.