I Am the Living Bread

Corpus Christi Year A

John 6: 51 58

Introduction

A large proportion of Christendom celebrates, on the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday, the gift by our Lord of himself as "living bread." It is one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, which Christians, sadly to form, can never agree on. Commentaries are full of interpretations based on the personal beliefs of the writers and it is rather easy to be misled. Only those who meditate on the passage are likely to find its treasures.

We will offer a simple meditative reflection on the short reading, rather than the usual notes.

Meditation

If we glance back in St John's Gospel, our Lord stated, a few moments before our reading commences:

"I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die".

In preparation for the meditation let's consider the significance of the words of Jesus, guided by M.F. Sadler's commentary of 1898.

Here let us, for a moment, consider the astonishing fact that the daily miracle of the Manna produced no spiritual life in those who saw the miracle, and ate the bread. If anything, in the way of teaching, was calculated to produce spiritual life, it was this Manna. St. Paul calls it "spiritual meat."

It was a sermon preached to them every day of their lives that the God of Abraham sustained them by a special daily exertion of Almighty power and goodness and yet it was totally without grace that is without power. "Their carcases fell in the wilderness because of unbelief." No mere outward sign addressed to the outward ear, no mere outward rite addressed to the senses could be more impressive. The Bread, then, opposite to this, which is to sustain spiritual and eternal life, must be more than teaching, more than emblem or figure suggestive only of good things from God. It must be something which gives grace and power to the whole man it cannot be mere instruction, but it must be power to obey that instruction; it cannot be a mere remembrance to call to mind, but it must be grace and internal power to act upon the remembrance, which grace and power does not expire with the sleep of the body in the grave, but remains (where and how, God knows); so that the man who has, and retains this grace of life, cannot properly be said to die, for because of the Resurrection his sleep in the tomb is but the image of death, not its reality.

Our Lord then elaborates what he has began to reveal:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

It is with these words that Jesus provoked a dispute among his listeners, proclaiming that the bread, which must be eaten to bring eternal life, is his flesh, given for the life of the world. To his listeners, this was abhorrent. Jesus however, does not back off at the arguing he sees before him, but drives his essential message home even more strongly by adding that not only must we eat the flesh of the Son of Man, but also drink his blood. This, of course, was an abomination to the Jews, who remained perplexed and confused.

The terms flesh and blood were well understood by them to have referred to a sacrifice. What took time to be understood was the message that our Lord's words imply that his human life is a gift (a sacrifice) so that the world may have life. In other words, the life and teaching of Jesus are the only food and drink which will appease the hunger and quench the thirst of humanity for something beyond the material world in which we live. It is this great truth which led the early Church to "remember" our Lord's self-gift by following his command to celebrate solemnly his Last Supper, often referred to as the Eucharist, Holy Communion, or Mass.

We take into our own bodies his life-giving body and blood in the way he showed us and commanded us to do.

This taking into ourselves of divine life is the ultimate symbol to us of God's abiding within us; the God who is known to us through the person of Jesus.

Conclusion

We close our meditation with a short passage by Mary Betz:

The God whom Jesus calls Abba (the endearing intimate title which in English we can only poorly translate as Father) is the source of all life, including Jesus' life. By partaking of Jesus' life, message and eucharistic food, we too share in the life that God offers. This life is not only in the future, but is ours in the here and now, a life in which our deepest hungers can be satisfied because we share in the same abiding intimate relationship with God that Jesus did.

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