Body and blood, bread and wine—these are basic components of the human being and the stuff that sustains human life. These basic and foundational realities speak to the ordinary humanity of Jesus and one of the deepest mysteries of the church. Without the Incarnation, we could not speak of Jesus’ body and blood. Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we could not be offered these simple elements transformed into the body and blood of Christ. In the Eucharist we participate in the whole of Jesus’ life, as human and divine, as victim and priest, who offers us sustenance under the appearances of bread and wine.
In one miracle account in Luke, a story recounted in all four Gospels, Jesus feeds the hungry after teaching “the crowds about the kingdom of God” and healing “those who needed to be cured.” In these two ways Jesus met their spiritual needs; but as the day draws to a close, his apostles encourage Jesus to send the people away so that they can find places to sleep and eat and meet their physical needs. Jesus instead challenges his apostles to “give them some food yourselves.” The verb Jesus uses is in the imperative, the messianic equivalent of “Just do it!” “You feed them!” When the apostles point to the impracticalities of Jesus’ request—”five loaves and two fish are all we have,” and there were 5,000 men—Jesus just does it, though he engages the help of his apostles.
Jesus has the apostles divide the crowd into groups of 50 and then, “taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. They all ate and were satisfied.” We should not overlook the physical nature of this miracle. People need bread for their bodies; but the eucharistic overtones are present throughout the blessing, breaking and distribution of the bread. Indeed, when the apostles picked up the leftovers “they filled 12 wicker baskets.” This is not an insignificant detail, but speaks to the church’s task to feed the physical and spiritual needs of people and to know that through Christ there is an abundance of food available.
But this miracle does point toward Jesus’ continuing to feed us, through the church, in the Eucharist. Paul recites the words from the Last Supper in which Jesus gave his body and blood for our salvation, which we consume under the appearances of bread and wine. Paul also recites the words of Jesus that this participation in the Eucharist is a remembrance, or anamnesis, that is, a commemoration, memorial and representation of Christ’s sacrifice. The anamnesis has two elements. Most prominent is Jesus’ sacrifice on behalf of humanity; less prominent, but not to be overlooked, is Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes in order to fulfill their human needs.
Yet this is not all. Paul states that “as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” As Jesus fed the earthly multitude, as he feeds us now in the Eucharist, so he will join us in the eschatological banquet, when “many will come from east and west” and “eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 8:11). The Eucharist is therefore proclamation of the coming kingdom of God, when we will eat in the Messianic banquet the heavenly food of which what we now consume is a foretaste. At that time, every aspect of the eucharistic feast—as memorial, real presence and eschatological proclamation—will be fulfilled. In the meantime, as we remember, proclaim and await, we recall too Jesus’ words at the miraculous feeding of the crowds: “You feed them!” This imperative is bequeathed to the church through the actions of the priest in the Eucharist and through each one of us as we attempt to meet the physical and spiritual needs of those who hunger in every way, for the bread of today and for the bread of tomorrow. We call all to the table, for Christ will feed all who come, and there will always be enough.