This reflection is for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Cycle B, 5/6/2018.
My son, Luke, receives the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist today for the first time! Yeah! Naturally, he’s very excited, and we have spent a long time learning what Catholics believe about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
We believe that this bread and wine have become, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord. We are what we eat, and when we eat the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, His blood mingles with ours, like water and wine, and we become more like Him–which, of course, is the whole journey of our Christian life. In this journey is growth in holiness and sanctification. The Church teaches that, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. In the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (C.C.C. 1324), and elsewhere that, “The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith.” (C.C.C. 1327)
What follows below are both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that stand as a witness to the teachings above. We begin with Jesus’ teaching, often called The Bread of Life Discourse. It is worth reading in its entirety. You can follow the link to read all of chapter 6.
In John 6:53-58, Jesus tells his disciples, “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, and I will raise him on the last day. 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. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Incidentally, this is the ONLY place in Scripture where Jesus’ disciples walk away from Him never to return. They say His teaching is just too much. It’s too hard for them to wrap their mind around. John 6:60 reads, “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’…As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'” (vs. 66-68)
The saying is hard–it’s true. It is difficult to understand, and can be accessed not with reason, but instead only through faith. Our experience is that with the words of consecration, by the power of the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread is transformed into our extraordinary God. Just as many people only saw an ordinary man, in Jesus, those with faith were able to see more. They were able to see the Messiah and Son of God.
The words of consecration, by which the change occurs, comes from The Last Supper Discourse found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (Mt. 26:17–30, Mk. 14:12–26, Lk. 22:7–39 and Jn. 13:1–17:26). The Matthean version is below and should sound familiar to church-goers.
Matthew 26:26-28 reads, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.'”
Clearly, the tradition of celebrating the Lord’s Supper continued in the early Church because, St. Paul, who was not at Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, is able to teach the Church in Corinth the tradition that had been handed on to him. He even goes so far as to say that you need to examine yourself or else! We must confess, and be reconciled to God and the community before we receive communion with the Lord and with one another–or else our communion is not communion at all! If we are not reconciled then we are not truly in communion; we are divided and our communion is a lie.
St. Paul teaches, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
The Book of Revelation gives the Christian community a glimpse “behind the veil” at the worship that goes on in perpetuity in the Heavenly Jerusalem. John says that the Lion has triumphed, but when he turns around he sees not a lion, but a Lamb that seemed to have been slain. John says, “I shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it. One of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.’ Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” (Revelation 5:1)
Jesus, the Lamb of God, remains for us the sacrificed Lamb. Jesus continues to offer himself, at every moment of every day for us and for our salvation. The sacrifice of Christ is not a time-bound event, but instead is an eternal event, that exists in every moment all the time. This can be very difficult to understand, naturally, because we don’t often experience eternal realities. Difficult to understand, yes, but where else would we go? He has the words of eternal life, right?
The early Church certainly believed so, and they went to great lengths to teach clearly what we believe, as it wasn’t any easier to believe back then either! In fact, the early church was thought to be cannibalistic, because they ate the flesh of their savior!
St. Justin the Martyr (c. 100 – 165 A.D.) wrote, “We call this food Eucharist; and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [Baptism], and is thereby living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, AND BY THE CHANGE OF WHICH our blood and flesh is nourished, IS BOTH THE FLESH AND THE BLOOD OF THAT INCARNATED JESUS. (First Apology, 66)
St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.350 A.D.) taught similarly, “Do not, therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but — be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.” (22 [Mystagogic 4], 6)
Click HERE for more quotes on the Eucharist from the early church fathers.
Jesus taught it, His disciples continued it, St. Paul taught it, St. John saw it, Saints Justin the Martyr and Cyril of Jerusalem, taught it, and we continue to teach it right to this very day when my son Luke will receive the Bread of Salvation! As the readings today teach, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:25) What an amazing God we have that He would bless us with so much, and that His arms are spread so wide. God desires that all come to believe and receive salvation in Him.
The Lord Jesus, out of crazy love, takes on human flesh, endures suffering and death, and offers himself as a perpetual sacrifice, so that we could be united with the most Holy Trinity forever. And what is the appropriate response from every believer who has received this gift? Love. That’s it. That’s our job. In 1 JN 4:7-10 the epistle teaches the early Church, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
It’s really quite simple, God the Father loves Jesus. Jesus loves us. We love each other. Love forgives, heals, brings wholeness, and sacrifices for the beloved. Today’s Gospel spells it out quite plainly for us as well. From Acts to 1JN to the Gospel, we are called to love. The Gospel reads, “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. This I command you: love one another.'”
Love one another. That’s what Jesus did, and continues to do–especially in the Eucharist. We receive His very life blood in the Eucharist not only for our own sake, but so that we can be like Him and love like him for ourselves and for the world. Love. Period. Amen?