Jesus said to the crowd: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
If I was to ask you what have the common themes been from our gospel
readings each Sunday this month, what would you say? What words
come to mind or resonate? They would, I expect, include eating, living,
sharing, life giving and abiding. All active words. All referring, in some way, to
Jesus, the living bread, the bread of life. There is something attractive about
those words. Something that makes us think, ponder and reflect.
Today’s gospel is widely known as “John’s eucharistic discourse”. It is the
clearest reference that John makes to the ritual practice of the Eucharist. The
mystery of the incarnation is seen through the metaphor of eating and
Some find the language of the Eucharist too stark and shocking,
with its imagery of eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. We are not
alone. Some of the disciples in today’s gospel struggled too. They said
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”. It is bread that sustains and
nourishes our whole Christian life, spiritually and sacramentally. Through the
bread and wine that we receive in this eucharistic community, we are fed with
The American theologian, Loye Bradley Ashton comments that “John suggests
that we abide with God by abiding with Christ and we abide in Christ by truly
abiding with ourselves. In other words, by not separating our flesh and spirit
from each other”.
The founder of the L’Arche community, Jean Vanier (1928 – 2019) comments too that “to become a friend of Jesus, is to become a friend of God. Jesus comes through something tiny, a little piece of bread or wafer, consecrated by the priest, which becomes his Body. He will leave us physically, but through the bread he will be present with us. The sacrament becomes a real presence for each one of us; it is not just a moment of grace but a sign of a covenant of love, a friendship offered to us. By it, He is truly present to us and in us”.
In recent weeks our hymns have included the words “Jesus, true and living bread” as well as “Alleluia, Bread of Angels, here on earth our food to stay”. Our choir would no doubt have sung the beautiful Eucharistic chant, Ave verum corpus, to settings by William Byrd, W A Mozart or Edward Elgar, if here.
What encouraged me was Simon Peter’s words at the end of today’s gospel when he said “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life”.
As we receive the consecrated wafer this morning may the familiar words of the “Prayer of Humble Access” re-focus our minds on God’s great love and mercy. May they remind us of the great privilege of receiving Christ, the living bread, the bread of life.
We do not presume to come to this thy holy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table; but thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his most sacred body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he us.