June 26, 2011 – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
His provision has come in varied forms, varying as his progressive revelation has developed. In the First Reading from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, we hear a review of how the Lord had fed the people of Israel in the desert as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. God provided manna and water from a rock to prevent them from dying of hunger or thirst. Their physical needs were met so they could learn that they had spiritual needs as well, needs that only God could satisfy. “Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”
But God does not merely provide us with the gifts we need, both physical and spiritual. He even gives us himself as our spiritual food. Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in John 6 makes it clear that he truly intends for his followers to feast on his flesh and to drink his blood. He did not back off from this teaching even when many of his disciples could not accept it and left him. Garbled reports of Christian doctrine and eucharistic worship led to charges that the early Church engaged in cannibalism.
But as horrifying as the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh was, the idea of drinking his blood was even worse. Every Jew had been taught “The life of a living body is in its blood… You shall not partake of the blood of any meat” (Lev 17:11, 14). And here was the one many thought was the Messiah telling people to drink his blood and eat his flesh!
Undoubtedly it was only afterward, when those who remained Christ’s disciples reflected on this discourse, that they could begin to make sense of it. What Jesus meant became clearer – although it will always be beyond our grasp – in light of the Last Supper, his Crucifixion, and his Resurrection.
The important bread Jesus gives was not what he fed to the 5,000 on the Galilean hillside. It was the bread he gives, which is no longer bread, but his Body. “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world… For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him… Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” It is through our spiritual nourishment in receiving Holy Communion that we have Jesus’ life in us, which will reach its consummation at our resurrection to eternal life.
When Christ gave his flesh to the apostles at the Last Supper and now gives it to us at the Eucharist, there is a greater purpose than our personal spiritual satisfaction. He gives it “for the life of the world.” H want to offer life to many – to all mankind, in fact. He invites everyone to come into his Church to feast at his banquet. And he shares his flesh and blood with all those who accept the invitation.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are also stewards. Our responsibility is to use the strength provided us by the Body of Blood of Christ to serve the Church and the world. We are to work to take Jesus’ invitation to the whole world. Because Christ promises that the one who eats and drinks his Body and Blood “remains in me and I in him,” we then are called to use the nourishment we receive as we apply our time, talent, and treasure to build up the Kingdom of God. We’re given the glorious opportunity to share in carrying on the mission of him who gives himself “for the life of the world.”