It was only about two months ago, on Holy Thursday, that the church celebrated the body and blood of Christ. It might seem odd to commemorate that gift again so soon, but today’s celebration has a different character. Holy Thursday was solemn and focused our attention on Jesus’ death. Today’s solemnity is joyful and focuses us on the mission begun at Pentecost: to act as Christ did and share his love with the world.
‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him’ (Jn 6:56)
How has Christ’s eucharistic presence acted in your life?
How have you let Christ act and love through you?
Today’s Gospel is one of many in which John compares Jesus to Moses. Through Moses, God gave the lamb of Passover, water in the desert, bread from heaven and God’s own words in the law. These gifts gave vital but temporary support to Israel’s life. Through Jesus, God also gives a lamb, a spring of living water, bread from heaven and a new commandment. These gifts sustain life eternal.
The Mosaic covenant was born from intimacy with God. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11). John believes the Son knows a deeper intimacy, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Moses’ face shone with a reflected glory; the Son bears divine glory of his own. Jesus came to bring to completion the project that Moses began on Sinai.
Jesus nearly subverts this elegant theology with his teaching to eat his flesh and drink his blood. They likely understood that he was speaking in symbols, but the symbols were disgusting. The Hebrew Scriptures outlaw cannibalism, and one of the strongest Levitical taboos forbids the drinking of blood from any being, living or dead. It was impossible to believe that such language could have fulfilled any part of God’s plan through Moses.
Jesus’ body was a place of action. In his body, Jesus healed, fed, forgave, called and taught.
Jesus chose such shocking words to make an even more shocking point. Just as the flesh of the paschal lamb nourished a people in flight and its blood protected Israel from death, so Jesus’ body and blood would sustain and protect a people sent out.
John’s account of the Last Supper lacks the eucharistic institution narrative that we find in the other Gospels and Paul. Instead, it is in today’s reading from his Gospel that he compares Jesus’ body and blood to earthly food. This passage is located not long after the multiplication of the loaves and just before Peter’s confession of faith. This passage connects Jesus the new Moses with Jesus the Christ, a source of life for those who believe.
Jesus’ body was a place of action. In his body, Jesus healed, fed, forgave, called and taught. Through Jesus’ body, humanity felt God’s love. John teaches us today how we too can, like Jesus, give God a body from which to act and a heart from which to love.
The medieval sisters of Liège who instituted the feast of Corpus Christi coupled eucharistic adoration with a robust commitment to the works of mercy. Their love of Christ’s body made of their own bodies a place from which God could act in love. So must we continue the mission of Christ.