Food for Life

     “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  These words are startling and visceral, and to those without faith, downright grotesque.  However, with these words, and with this gift of himself, Jesus reminds us that his body and blood are our food.  He gives us himself which is as necessary for our spiritual growth, as our every-day food is for our physical growth.  “This is my body.” “Take and eat.” This special invitation is our guarantee that Jesus will always nourish and sustain us.  In fear and trembling, in wonder and gratitude, and in daring and desiring, we eat this food!

     In Jesus’ world, meals always signified peace, mutual trust, and a desire for communication among those gathered at table.  Usually such meals were shared with close friends and loving family members.  The very act of breaking bread with another person established a sacred bond that those who shared the meal promised to sustain.  Such meals were never shared with outcasts or public sinners, yet Jesus often shared meals with such people, so that through his meal sharing, sinners might achieve a new level of holiness and intimacy with him.

     Our gospel directive stresses the importance of sharing in the meal of Jesus’ body and blood.  “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”  That puts the invitation in straightforward language.  To further enhance our understanding of this meal, we look to John’s Gospel where Jesus emphasizes another dimension of the Eucharist---the Holy Thursday foot washing.  Within our acts of service to others we can actually build the body of Christ as Christ wishes it to be built.  Then the life-giving aspect of Jesus’ body and blood that we consume can truly build the body of Christ in and through our service to others.

     Each time we approach the Eucharist and hear: “The Body of Christ.”  “The Blood of Christ,” we hear what we are about to receive, and we hear our name as well, for we are the body and blood of Christ. When we eat and drink this food we become what we consume.  However, our intimate participation in this meal comes at a price.  Let’s not be naïve about what we are getting into when we come to his table.  Remember, what was, what is, and what the world rejected once, it continues to reject.  If we are the body of Christ and are nourished by his body and blood, we cannot escape the sacrifice that will be demanded of us.

     Each week we come empty and hungry to his table, and each week we leave full---full of bread---full of life---full of power, and full of divine presence.  Henri Houwen reminded us that it is Jesus who gives all.  “The bread is not simply a sign of his desire to become our food, the cup is not just a sign of his willingness to be our drink.  Bread and wine become his body and blood in the giving.  As God becomes fully present in Jesus, so Jesus becomes fully present to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  This is indeed food for life and food for everlasting life.”                                                                                                    

     During this time of social distancing, most people have been physically unable to receive the body and blood of Jesus.  How then can we celebrate this feast so vital in nourishing our spiritual life?  Pope Francis has suggested a prayer that will sustain us during this time:  “My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.  I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you in my soul.  Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart.  I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you.  Never permit me to be separated from you.  Amen.”

~ Deacon Wilson Shierk