“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” (John 6:53-55).
Last Sunday, we celebrated the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity; the mystery of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons. The summary of last Sunday’s message is this: the Trinity represents God’s attempts to show us the depths of His love for mankind. Out of love, God created us, out of love, God took our human flesh, died for us and out of love, God remains with us as Holy Spirit.
Last Sunday, we also noted: Do not try to understand the Trinity, rather just know that God loves you so much that He is willing to do anything for you. It is this great love that we are celebrating today; the fact that God while in our human flesh gave us His very flesh to eat and His blood to drink to sustain us and guarantee our entrance into eternal life. There are indeed so many great lessons for us today:
1 The Eucharist is God’s Gift to Humanity.
Recall that in our Gospel passage last Sunday, we heard the words of St. John: “For God so loved the world that He gave….” You may wonder, what did God really give to us? If you say, Jesus Christ, you are correct but a gift is not really a gift if the giver takes it back, right? Jesus ascended to the Father. So where is our gift? What really did God give us? In very simple terms: “For God so loved the world that He gave us His Body and Blood that whosoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood would have eternal life and be raised up on the last day.” (John 3:16, John 6:54). In other words, today we are celebrating God’s greatest gift to humanity; the gift of Himself made readily available in the Holy Eucharist.
2. The Eucharist is Our Communion with God.
As a proof of His love, God offers us His own flesh and blood to eat that by so doing, we would be in communion (blood covenant) with God, share in His life and God Himself would enter and remain inside us. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (John 6:56). In all the religions in the world, Christianity is the only religion where God is close to the people. In fact, God himself declared in Deuteronomy 4:7; “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us…” In Holy Communion, we enter into God and God enters us. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” If this saying is true, it implies that when we eat the Body and drink the Blood, we become part of God and God incarnates himself in us.
3 The Eucharist is the New Manna for all who are Heaven-bound.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus noted: “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58). This way, Jesus employs a very powerful image to teach what the Eucharist is about. In our first reading, we see Moses instructing the people of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land: One; that the desert experience was a test. Two; that God fed them with manna which they did not know. Three; that God used the experience to teach them that man does not live on bread alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of God. Four; that God did all of these so that they would not forget Him.
When you take this moving speech of Moses and apply it to what Jesus says about the Holy Eucharist, you cannot but see the following: One; while manna was a test, the Eucharist is the real deal (just as the bronze serpent was a prefiguration of Christ on the Cross). Two; as God fed them with manna to sustain them on their journey, God is again feeding us with His Body and Blood to sustain us on our journey to heaven. Three; we cannot depend on physical food but on the Eucharist because it proceeds from the mouth of God. Four, God gave us the Eucharist so that we can always remember Him. In the words of Jesus Christ: “Do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19).
4 The Eucharist is More than a Mere Symbol.
As we know, Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist did not go down well with many of His followers. Many walked away because they could not understand how Jesus could feed them with His own Body and Blood. Jesus kept on repeating Himself, again and again, showing that He was not simply mincing words. He wasn’t speaking in parables. He meant every word, He didn’t mind that people were leaving. Jesus even asked twelve if they wanted to leave as well.
Knowing that the Holy Eucharist is God whole and entire and not just a representation of God entail that we worship the Holy Eucharist; that we treat it with all the reverence and dignity that God truly deserves. This is what St. Paul warns us “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord… For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
This is the only reason why we do not allow everyone partake of the Holy Eucharist. We ensure that those who come to receive it understand that it is God not just a wafer, and that they are in a state of grace (free from sin having gone for confession and fasted for at least one hour before). Even the manner of reception is such that we give all dignity and respect to God.
5 The Eucharist unites us as One.
In celebrating the Trinity last Sunday, we noted that just as God is perfectly united as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we who are children of God must learn from God to be united and live in peace with one another. Once again, in the Holy Eucharist, we see another encouraging factor for us to live in unity.
There is an African adage that says: “You cannot eat from the same plate with me and still be my enemy.” Dear friends, St. Paul teaches us today “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread.” (1st Corinthians 10:17). It is a shame and a big scandal that after eating from the one bread, we could still be having quarrels, hatred, suspicion, gossips and betrayals in our midst.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, may my reception of your body and blood not bring me judgement and condemnation but through your loving mercy, be for me protection in mind and body. Amen. Bible Study: Deuteronomy 8:2-3.14-16, 1st Corinthians 10:16-17 and John 6:51-58).