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Thursday 11 June 2020: Corpus Christi

 

I am the living bread

John 6:51-58

 

By Duncan Macpherson

Features Editor, Roman Catholic Permanent Deacon, Retired Lecturer in Theology at Saint Mary’s University, Twickenham

Context: a Sunday Eucharist in a parish in a mixed faith area with a congregation from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds

Aim: to stress the implications of the Eucharist for personal and political change

The reality of poverty

Crops are used for biofuels and the price of rice and cereals is going up. That is a nuisance to us, but for millions of people in poorer countries it isn’t just a nuisance, it is a disaster. In Deuteronomy 8, we hear the children of Israel being reminded that they had been in a ‘vast and dreadful wilderness.’ And in our world, many live in a wilderness. According to the World Bank, 736 million people, live in extreme poverty on $1.90 or less a day. And poverty is now on the increase in the UK. New government data shows that while the rate of absolute child poverty that had been gradually falling since 2012, it is now rising again. Many families rely on food banks just to survive. But maybe I do not need to worry about where there the next meal is coming from. But there is another kind of poverty, a hunger for love, and a thirst for meaning in our lives.

A shocking feeding

And for this hunger and thirst Jesus claims to offer food and drink that will satisfy permanently. He says he is the Living Bread and that his flesh and blood are real food and drink. But the people started arguing: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ Try imagining we are devout Jews in the first century. We have witnessed the feeding miracle of the loaves. We are familiar with the story of the feeding of our ancestors in the desert. And we can understand why Jesus compares his teaching to bread and drink, but now Jesus says something crude and shocking: ‘the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.’ He knows that we Jews do not eat meat with blood in it, because for us blood equals life. And he invites us to eat his flesh with the blood! Is it any surprise that we ask the question, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’

Unexpected new life

But the good news is about his death giving us new life. The symbolism is crude because his death will be crude. He will be hung up like a lump of dead meat and his blood will soak the ground at the foot of the cross. But the horror of his death will be the means by which we will share in his resurrection, ‘Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day’. To come alive, we need to feed with all our hearts on Jesus who is the bread of life!

A real sharing

And in the Eucharist, generations of believers will share in his saving death and have communion with him: ‘Whoever who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in them. … and anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’ The eternal life Jesus offers survives death, but we don’t have to wait for death to begin to experience it: ‘Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life’.

One Body

Paul tells us we form a single body because we all share in one loaf (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) and Saint Augustine says: ‘The faithful know and receive the body of Christ if they labour to be the body of Christ. And they become the body of Christ if they study to live by the Spirit of Christ.’ And this living by the Spirit of Christ has social, and economic implications. The One Bread that unites us in Christ foreshadows the unity to which all humanity is called. We are responsible for others, whether their hunger is for economic and social justice, or for the deeper hunger for love and meaning. The symbolism of the Eucharist is based on the symbolism of the Jewish Passover, speaking of freedom from slavery and oppression. Freedom from slavery is about change. And the Eucharist is about change. The reality of bread and wine is changed into the reality of the Risen Christ among us. And that reality changes us and gives us the strength to lead those who are in a ‘dreadful wilderness’ so as to bring them into the Promised Land for which they were created.

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