1 KINGS 19:4-8 EPHESIANS 4:30-5:2 JOHN 6:41-51
This week we’re going to focus our reflection on one sentence from John’s Gospel. “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.”
John wrote his Gospel between 90 AD and 100 AD. It’s very different from the three other Gospels. One very notable difference is the account of the Last Supper. In John’s Gospel Jesus doesn’t take bread and wine and say, “This is my body,” This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers a lengthy teaching culminating with his washing the feet of the disciples. It’s in chapter six of his Gospel that we’re presented with Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist. In this chapter he never mentions “This is my body,” “This is my blood.” Instead, he delivers what has become to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse, which culminates in the sentence I noted at the beginning of this reflection. Let’s unpack the meaning of this beautiful and powerful teaching.
Jesus teaches that he’s “the living bread that came down from heaven.” This is a reference to the exodus journey. God fed the people with manna, “the bread from heaven.” This bread was a pledge of God’s loving care for the children of Israel and their food during their journey to the Promised Land. Jesus applied this image to himself re-defining the bread from heaven. It isn’t bread that fills a hungry stomach. He, himself, is the food for life’s journey. He, himself, is LIVING bread. Jesus intensifies this powerful image even more by stressing: “the bread that I will give is MY FLESH for the life of the world.”
In John’s Gospel, the Last Supper takes place the day before the Passover when, as
Mark’s Gospel tells us, “they sacrificed the Passover Lamb.” (Mark 14:12) This is implying that Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, whose sacrifice will bring life to the entire world. In the context of this teaching, we mustn’t forget that the Passover Lamb was not only to be slain, it was to be eaten. Jesus reinforced this when he said, “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” The implications of this teaching are astounding.
Over and over again during the Eucharistic Liturgy we hear the term the Paschal Mystery. The Bread of Life Discourse defines this mystery. It takes the image of the Passover Lamb, slaughtered and eaten, and applies it to the person of Jesus. We’ve all heard the statement: “You are what you eat.” In the Eucharistic celebration we proclaim the death of the Lord – his sacrifice on the cross-AND we eat his flesh and drink his blood in the Eucharistic bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the first Passover.
Jesus is the true and eternal Passover Lamb, sacrificed and eaten by those who believe in him. Our communion with him unites us in communion with the Father, also. By eating his flesh and drinking his blood we become him, and he becomes us.
Let’s conclude this reflection by adding one more level to this mystery. We must always be mindful of our vocation as believers. Christ continues to mold the world into the kingdom of God through the work of his disciples who remain in communion with him. Let’s never forget his teaching in Matthew 10:40: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me.”