Path to eternal life: Sharing in Christ’s body and blood
“For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink,” Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel passage. The passage taken from the Bread of Life discourse in chapter six of the Gospel according to John continues the Gospel account we have been hearing for the past three weeks. The passage begins repeating the end of last week’s reading: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
In these words we are reminded that Jesus “is from heaven.” He comes from the Father down to earth. His mission is to reveal the Father and His love. In doing this he will gather all to himself in that love. The loving relationship is one that brings life – eternal life. Finally to accomplish His mission he will lay down his life in sacrifice. In this passage the eucharistic theme comes to the fore.
The Gospel passage continues with the Jews quarreling about what Jesus means by “giving his flesh to eat.” Jesus’ words seem incredulous for the crowd. So Jesus makes it clear: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you.”
Here He emphasizes the relationship between eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His blood with life. It is necessary for life to share in the life-giving food which is Jesus Himself. Earlier in the discourse the necessity of belief in Jesus for life was stated; now added to this is the sharing in His flesh and blood.
The development continues now, associating life with “eternal life.” As he says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day.” So Jesus, as the Bread of Life, gives life now and that life will endure even through death.
Jesus then goes on to say that his flesh is “true food” and his blood “true drink.” As we reflect on these words we can think of the eucharistic celebration where the bread and wine become “the Body of Christ” and the “Blood of Christ.” Jesus says that participation in this meal brings union with Himself: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
This union with Him is the source of life both now and forever: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” The passage concludes where it began – the bread from heaven. Jesus is the bread from heaven, unlike the manna eaten in the desert, this bread brings life not just now but forever.
St. Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.) expresses the understanding of the early Christians of the significance of the Eucharist in these words:
“It is allowed to no one else to participate in that food which we call Eucharist except the one who believes that the things taught by us are true, who has been cleansed in the washing unto rebirth and the forgiveness of sins and who is living according to the way Christ handed on to us. For we do not take these things as ordinary bread or ordinary drink. Just as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh by the word of God and took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so also were we taught that the food, for which thanksgiving has been made through the word of prayer instituted by him, and from which our blood and flesh are nourished after the change, is the flesh of that Jesus who was made flesh. Indeed, the Apostles, in the records left by them which are called gospels, handed on that it was commanded to them in this manner: Jesus, having taken bread and given thanks said, ‘Do this in memory of me, this is my body.’ Likewise, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, ‘This is my blood,’ and he gave it to them alone.”
The Eucharist is the central celebration of our faith. Through the Eucharist we enter into the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. We enter into His self-offering and the redemption that is accomplished through it.
Through the Eucharist, Jesus is made present in His Body and Blood. Through the Eucharist, we are made one with Christ and “remain” with Him. Through the Eucharist, we become one with each other in the one Body of Christ.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Lower Makefield.