Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- In our short gospel from John (6:51-58), seven brief verses, the concept of life or living is the centre point of the reading, being raised eleven times; living bread; life; and live. Jesus presses home the urgency of his message, indeed of his entire being and purpose; and he does so to a hostile audience, to Jews in his case, who believed they had long since cracked the route to God and stood in need of nothing more. Suppose that he were doing this for the first time to people of our age in the rich West, people secure in their monied existences; confident in their complaisant atheism and cynical of anything but that which their own eyes could confirm, and we begin to appreciate the extent of what he was up against. Jesus did at least live in an age when everyone believed in either a god or gods; we live in an age of individualism and self reliance. Even so called Christians have very limited knowledge of the faith and are resistant to developing those beliefs.
There is however in all of us a longing for something greater. I suggest that in most of us it is diverted into a wish for more money or possessions, greater control over our lives, be that through physical fitness or the power we exercise over others. In some however, that desire, that will for ‘life’, finds its true home and source in God, met in the Eucharist.
What would such a ‘life’ be like? From our gospel we get some very clear indications. “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you will not have life in you.” (Seemingly alive we are in fact dead, deep awareness of the meaning of the Eucharist is essential). “Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life.” We achieve or rather are guaranteed immortality. We appear to be shifting radically from self reliance to a state of utter dependency, now no longer our ‘own’ persons but totally given over to interaction with another, indeed, with another who completely transcends this mortal life: “I shall raise him up on the last day.”
This becomes even clearer as Jesus continues: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.” The partaker of the Eucharist actually indwells Christ and Christ lives in him. We can be sharers of the being and nature of Christ himself and through him of the Father! It is possible then for us to inhabit and take on the mindset of Jesus, to live with the altruism and care, the vision of creation which is His, God’s. Moreover, once we have received the Eucharist; his flesh and blood, He lives continually in us! We are Christ’s, members of his being, now no longer our own but dwelling places of Christ, which is why St Paul calls us temples of the Holy Spirit, his shrines; places of meeting between God and man. St Augustine once remarked that far from this being a blanket providing protection from the world’s ills, the Christian who lives in Christ and in whom Christ lives is called to be more vulnerable, more aware of the needs and sadness of the world than before, precisely because he sees things through Christ the Creator’s eyes and understands what it takes to sustain it every moment. Clearly then, this taking on of Christ is not just a Sunday only experience.
Some of these ideas about our real intimacy with the divine were there much earlier, as we see from the 5th century BC Book of Proverbs, (Prov 9:1-6) in which the writer speaks of personified wisdom. In our reading we see that careful preparations have been made for a festival via the making of the building and provisions and find that the way to wisdom lies in the eating of the sacrificial banquet which is both offering to deity and gift to the worshippers. By eating and drinking of these offerings the ignorant become wise in the ways of God. Knowledge of God and union with him are gained by joining in and with him. Clearly our gospel shows Jesus’ familiarity with such texts.
When St Paul wrote to the Ephesians (5:15-20) he again emphasised the extent of the believers ‘being members of Christ’, so that they realised what it meant; a daily transformation into the being and likeness of Christ; a putting on of Christ which here he recommends by way of carrying the Church with you: “Sing the words and tunes of the psalms and hymns when you are together, and go on singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, so that always and everywhere you are giving thanks to God….”. In other words, remember that the Church is not the building, but you are, you are the face of Christ which others will meet day in and day out. What a challenge this must have been to that tiny minority on the streets of that vibrantly pagan city, with its many gods and in-your-face immorality. If Christ’s body and blood is the route to eternal life, the believer too, who is the partaker of and the ‘home’ of the sacrament is also the means by which others come to life, the life which is God eternal and which is promised to them too. Reception of the Eucharist is then not for ones-self since it makes us vehicles of Christ himself filled with his solicitude for the world. This was the challenge Jesus offered to Law-righteous Jews who believed they had their path to God stitched up through adherence to the law and who were so offended by his teachings that they sought to kill him. It is a path we too may also be called to follow.