Eternal life begins today.
The bread of life that Jesus gave his disciples was both his teaching and the sacramental breaking of bread that we call the Eucharist. Both confer on his disciples the grace that nourished him during his own ministry. Jesus’ trust in the Father’s love gave him the strength to remain obedient unto death, and it was the Father’s love working in him that brought him to the resurrection.
‘Just as the Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.’ (Jn 6:57)
How has your reception of Jesus’ body made your body like his?
How has your reception of Jesus’ blood given your life a purpose like his?
In last week’s Gospel passage, it was Jesus’ teaching that constituted the bread of life. This week, John turns to the Eucharist in his account of Jesus’ discourse. Some scholars argue that Jesus was speaking purely metaphorically, with no reference to the Eucharist. They argue that the absence of an institution narrative in John's Last Supper account suggests that John's community might not have celebrated a sacramental Eucharist.
John’s Last Supper account does not include an institution narrative, and this makes it difficult to claim that John’s community celebrated a sacramental Eucharist. Although such skepticism is not unhealthy, it appears unwarranted here. The direct, even earthy language Jesus uses for eating and drinking in this passage leaves little room for doubt that John is referring here to a ceremony centered on Jesus’ flesh and blood.
New life requires new food. Just as John drew on Exodus imagery—wind and water—to describe birth to new life in the Spirit, he here draws on manna imagery to illustrate God’s cultivation of new life within the believer. Jesus is the new manna. What his body did is true food; his ministry, death and resurrection constitute the new manna that nourishes a reborn disciple with grace. The salvation he won and the resurrection he revealed are the drink that continues to propel every believer to eternal life. When Christians consume the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, they take on Jesus’ ministry as their own, and they offer their own lives for the salvation of the world.
The salvation that Jesus promises is more than just life after death or the promise of a future resurrection, although both those ideas are included. Eternal life is the spirit and power that believers receive the moment they place their faith in Christ and make a commitment to live according to his example. It is the awareness of the Father’s love at work in their bodies, driving away fatigue, hunger, thirst and illness. That same love is at work in the soul, driving away anxiety, despair, anger, fear and loneliness. Throughout his Gospel, John recounts those miracles that he thinks best show Jesus sharing these qualities of new life with the people he encounters.
Eternal life begins in the here-and-now. When nourished with Christ’s own flesh and blood, the life within us can become an unstoppable force that undergoes no appreciable change even with our own death. Just as important, this force is a life we can share with others. Whenever we, like Jesus, help another overcome evils like fatigue, illness, fear or alienation, we become the bread that supports the life of the world.
This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Life Inexorable,” in the August 6, 2018, issue.