The Big Three: Eucharist, Part I

The Eucharist is the real presence of You, Jesus, here and now, today, the same as when You first revealed that I must eat Your flesh and drink Your blood to attain life everlasting: This saying is hard; who can accept it? [1][Jn 6:60] But You are and were serious about Your body and Your blood. In John 6, the “Bread of Life” discourse, You gradually bring the crowds and us around from the previous day’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes to the necessity of eating of Your body and drinking of Your blood.

  • You start out by calling the crowd’s and my bluff: you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. [Jn 6:26-27].
  • The crowd and we say Moses gave us manna, bread from heaven to eat, so beat that! You said to them, “…It was not Moses who gave bread from heaven; my Father gives [in the present] you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”[Jn 6:31-33] These were topics You covered before…In Chapter 3, You identified yourself as the one who came down from heaven. [3:13]…In Chapter 5, You confronted the crowds in Jerusalem: You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life. [5:39-40; see also 5:21] Later in John, You will identify Yourself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. [14:6] Therefore, this bread of God is You who (a) came down from heaven and (b) gives life to the world.
  • The crowds, wanting this life through this bread of God say: “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. [6:34-35] Here You identify Yourself explicitly with this Bread of Life which is the Bread of God. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for pointing out the difference between satisfying hunger, coming to or seeking Jesus, the giver, the sustainer of life, and satisfying that thirst, believing in Jesus, that quest for knowledge and understanding.
  • Now You try to get me to see, for although I have seen, I do not believe [6:36] what you explain next: I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” [6:36-40] Since You begin and end with “seeing” and “believing,” they must form the key to this passage. And Your point?…You came not to do Your will but the Father’s will and He wills that You should save and raise up all whom He gives You, all who see You and believe in You. This poses a problem: those in the crowd there could see You, just like Thomas, when he plays the Missouri cynic, could seen and touch you and believe…but how are we going to be the ..those who have not seen and have believed. [Jn 20:29] Sure, I have these witnesses, John, the other Evangelists, the Apostles, the martyrs, even the people of God then and now who tell me this is true, who believe themselves and encourage me to join them and believe.

But I think that You are speaking to me today when You say: everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. I think You are challenging me to see You now and believe in You. And I think this is not just seeing You as indwelling in the faithful, in every person I meet who must, to some degree, share Your life in order to be alive. I believe that You want me to encounter You here and now in Your true body and Your real blood, truly present, among us every day, even walking with those who eat and drink and become one in You. But more on this later.

  • You are Jesus, the son of Joseph. Do we not know…[Your] father and mother? Then how can…[You] say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?[Jn 6:42] I notice the irony here. Yesterday, following the multiplication, we were ready to come and carry him off to make him king,[6:15]…now today, because You state that You come down from heaven which we thought likely yesterday, thinking You the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world, [6:14] the one predicted by Moses who must have been sent by God. But now, because You claim to be sent by God, we discount all we thought then and want to bring You down to our human, our ordinary, in fact our all-too-familiar level. Yesterday, we just loved to eat Your free bread. Today, since You claim to be bread from heaven, bread that give life, bread better than manna, far better than the loaves we ate yesterday, that’s going too far!
  • You call our bluff…since we won’t confront You face to face with these questions, these disparaging remarks, since we are still grumbling just like we did in the desert, You chastise us: “Stop murmuring among yourselves.”[6:43] You want to talk, let’s talk; you want to argue, let’s argue; you want to debate, let’s debate…but let’s get it out here in the open for everyone to hear!”
  • Then You say: “Let Me be very clear: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. [6:44] If you want the bread of life, that’s me. Moses did not give you manna, My Father did. And My Father gives you Me; you can’t come to me, you can’t have this bread of life that I am, unless you believe the Father sent Me and flesh and blood…[will] not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17] And if He does reveal this to you, if you do believe Him, if You do believe Me, then I will raise you up on the last day.”
  • “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.[6:45] You have not seen the Father, but if you listen to what He told you through the Torah and the prophets, if you learn from His words, you will come to know Me, for they testify that I come from the Father and have seen the Father.”
  • “Now you believe that God has spoken to our forefathers, that the Torah comes from God. For this reason, It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.”[6:46]
  • “This is important, let me be very clear, whoever believes has eternal life. [6:47] Believe the Father, believe his words in Scripture, believe in Me, and you will have eternal life.”
  • To repeat what I have said: I am the bread of life.[6:48] You must believe this if you are to truly believe in Me as I truly am, as the Father sent Me, as you need Me. Only then will you have eternal life.”
  • “You do remember that, though Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” [6:49-50]
  • “But let me be very clear, you have to eat it; you have a choice but you have to eat it if you do not want to die. As I said, I am the living bread that 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.” [6:48-51] Up to this point, this bread that came down, this bread that gives life, has been out there, a loaf, a baked good, a thing that both You and I are discussing…now You have the chutzpah to say that the bread that I will give is my flesh…whoa! We’re in a whole new realm. We’ve got a major problem. We just went from theory to reality, from wheat, barley and rye to the flesh of a man, a human being,…and not just any human being, You…that’s a gigantic leap…You’re really testing the limits of our credibility. Not only that, but you tied it into this “life” thing, not just my life, not just the life of this crowd, but for the life of the world. You just upped the stakes from our intimate reality to a cosmic perspective. You’re talking a major paradigmatic shift. Maybe I misunderstood You…maybe you mean this wheat loaf is “like” your flesh, because You are, after all, God, and in taking on Your body, You took on Your own creation, but God is not limited to Your body, God keeps all creation in existence. Maybe, in that way, in a sense, all creation is Your “flesh?” Does that explain it?
  • The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” I gotta admit, this crazy metaphor is scaring a lot of people, including me. I mean, the revulsion of cannibalism just makes me gag. Maybe you want to consider dropping it or at least backing off from it a bit, maybe explaining its one of your parables or, as I mentioned before, the bread is “like” your flesh, that You want us to pretend its Your flesh in order that we appreciate just how much You want us to have life…kinda like the flesh is Your way of saying Your “blood, sweat and tears.”
  • …You won’t back down; You make Yourself even more explicit: “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 within you.” [6:53] Now is that compromise? Is that an explanation? Does that admit You were kidding with us? Does that admit this whole bit is a metaphor? No! Exactly the opposite. First, you introduce your statement with the “Amen, Amen, I say to you” bit, kinda like saying “This is it, this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.” But You are God, so when You say, “I say to you,” in essence, You are saying: “This is God speaking here, listen up!” So You give us no wiggle room, You pull a Nixon and stand there and say: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear.” Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how I look at it, You are not like Nixon; what You say is Truth, You cannot say anything but Truth. But putting that aside, not only do you not back down from Your previous statement, You raise the stakes exponentially: either I eat Your flesh and drink Your blood or I do not have life in me. Now that’s silly; I have life in me right now and I haven’t eaten Your flesh or drunk Your blood.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. You are not talking just this temporal life, this cozy life, this physical life that I am living right here and now. You are talking eternal life, everlasting life, life that doesn’t end when I die…in fact, You go on to say that You will raise me up on the last day. That “last day” sounds rather ominous…I mean, won’t we have another sunrise, won’t things go on just as they have done for all these billions of years. You mean there is a terminal, a final day? The great implosion? All gone? No more time? Yep, but then You counter that with “eternal” life and “raising me up.” You know that I may, most likely shall, have died by that time. What happens then? It seems nothing, or at least not good things, if I don’t eat Your flesh and drink Your blood. This is a major either/or, a line in the sand, a demarcation to end all demarcations! What a choice, cannibalism or eternal death! I mean, even the word we blithely translate as “eats” is actually “not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: ‘munch,’ ‘gnaw.’”[2]
  • For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.[6:55] You are just not going to let go of this; like a bull terrier, you’re going to just keep shaking this in front of me, whether I like it or not, until I get it. Well, it raises two questions:
    • (a) Why did You not wait to say all this after the Last Supper? There, when You blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to us saying: “This is my body that is for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood, [1 Cor 11:24-25], the outward appearance of the bread was not bloody flesh, nor the wine, gory blood. Transubstantiation is a miracle, even one of the great Miracles, right up there with the Incarnation and the Resurrection, but at least it put this eating Your flesh and drinking Your blood into something I can do without throwing up. So coming back to the question: Why did you say all this, seemingly months before the Last Supper?  Hold on…maybe, just maybe, that is Your point. If You announced all this after the Last Supper, people might think the bread and wine were tokens, mnemonic devices to simply remind us of You. After all, You did say: Do this in remembrance of me twice [1 Cor 11:24, 25]; so memory, reenactment is certainly part of it. But without this dialogue, without this discourse on what You really are doing, I might have been off the hook, whipping my brow and exhaling Whew! But here You lay it on the line: flesh = food, blood = drink; if I want eternal life, I eat and drink. Period, end of story.
    • (b) Then there’s the question of Truth. Can I believe what You are saying? A spin-doctor would tell you: I think Your ratings in the polls just took a major dive. Perhaps that is the point: You were not here to win popularity contests. Nor were You here to sugar-coat reality. You were here to tell it like it is, to reveal to us Himself: I am…the Truth,[Jn 14:6] unadorned, simple, in a carpenter’s visage from Nazareth [Can anything good come from Nazareth?][Jn 1:46]; For this [You were]…born and for this [You]…came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [Your]… [Jn 18:37] Why I can’t accept the Truth, You, and the incredible reality that You are, that You reveal, that You teach,…this is my problem, not Yours. Perhaps that’s again the point: what You’re tell me, what You actually do at the Last Supper, it is incredible – “not credible, unbelievable”,…and I cannot believe it on my own. I must rely on the gift of faith. I can’t get there on my own: You’re standing there, God Incarnate, You’re talking about Your own flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.[Mt 16:17] I must have the gift of faith from Your Father to believe in Your flesh and blood, the transformed bread and wine.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. [Jn 6:56] You do realize this is kinda spooky…I mean, first, I eat your flesh and drink your blood, seemingly playing first the zombie and then the vampire, and then, as a result of my monstrous actions, I somehow remain in You and You remain in me. How is this possible. You already said my activities would gain me eternal life. But now Your are telling me that You, who obviously must be dead when I do these things, will somehow be eternally alive and not only that, but be eternally alive in me, transform me so that I am eternally alive and somehow I will be in You. Very confusing…..But maybe so only from a human perspective and not from a Divine. First, You will overcome my revulsion by extending Your Divinity not only having taken our form, our humanity, but also further extending Your Divinity to take on the form of bread and wine. If I think about it this way, it is not such a stretch of the imagination. Any God who can become man, can also become whatever He wants to be. The ancients thought God took on animal or plant or monstrous forms; a simple form of bread and wine seems relatively bland in comparison with some of our misconceptions. Secondly, and somewhat in the same vein, if You can be God, man and bread and wine at the same time, what’s to stop You from being in me, and for that matter, enabling me, somehow, to be in You. I mean, I am not going to totally understand how this all comes about, I am not going to be able to grok how You actually make all this happen, but I can encompass in my feeble brain what my heart, my soul in faith understands, that You are God and that for God all things are possible [Mt 19:26] including You making it ok to eat Your real flesh, drink Your real blood and through this miracle, enable me to have both eternal life and to live in You and You in me…Lots to think about; lots to pray about; lots to meditate about; lots to believe…but You make it simple…as You said earlier, everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. [6:40] Period

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Note on 6:54–58 in the NABRE text. The note continues: “This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning ‘eat.’”

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