Finding nourishment through Christ

  • June 14, 2011

Body and Blood of Christ (Year A) June 26 (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-59)

Faith and trust are not all that difficult when all is well and everything is in harmony with our desires. It is easy for people to praise God and pledge devoted service even as they continue to do things their own way. But when everything collapses and the going gets tough it is a different story. Faith — or what passes for it — evaporates as cynicism, fear and doubt take command.

God wanted to cure the Israelites of human game-playing and conditional faith. The people were led into an extremely hostile environment — no food or water, and a host of lurking dangers. It was very simple: they had to trust God and rely on Him or die. They could not call the shots or manipulate God, although on a couple of notable occasions they tried. They had to wait faithfully for the life-sustaining manna that would be given daily. Even gathering more than a day’s supply was forbidden — no room at all for self-sufficiency or stubbornness.

Life itself and every breath is a gift from God. We really own nothing and have control over very little. Our pretentions, however, far exceed this reality.

It is only when everything is stripped away or when we are helpless that we learn our own limitations and begin the journey towards humility, true faith and reliance on God rather than our own cleverness.

Institutions and structures — political, economic, and religious — have declined in influence and the capacity to serve the needs of people. We live in an atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety. But this is also an opportunity to learn to live a life of reliance and trust in God rather than power and manipulation.

What does it mean for everyone to partake of the same food and drink? Paul’s admonitions are written in a context of communal disunity, selfishness and competition. He reminds the folks in Corinth that when they partake of the body and blood of Christ they share in those realities — they become part of Christ’s body.

But it also follows that since all are being nourished by this common source they become part of one another.

The body of Christ is not only the bread of the Eucharist but the community gathered around the table.

The same care and reverence must be shown to this part of the body as to the sacrament. The experience of the Eucharist is personal but not private — it expresses a communal and public life with other believers and disciples and a commitment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Eating flesh and drinking blood — no wonder his audience was shocked. It was after this that some of his followers began to bail out. It is the same sort of shock language that is used throughout the Gospel of John.

Jesus consistently uses ordinary words in provocative and very puzzling ways. They are meant as metaphors for a much higher spiritual reality that Jesus both reveals and makes accessible to human beings.

In the desert the Israelites had to depend on the gift of manna for sustenance — a daily gift from God but temporary and limited. But John’s Jesus is offering sustenance on a different and higher spiritual plane that is eternal and constant.

He himself has become the sustaining and life-giving presence of God.

The challenge is to assimilate Jesus in the same way that one would assimilate food and drink so that Jesus becomes part of our very makeup. Jesus becomes our thought, word, and deed and our bodies the temple in which God dwells. This can be done in a variety of ways in addition to the Eucharist — prayer, meditation, service and self-sacrifice, love, compassionate action, and dedication to justice.

In a sense, being sustained by the body and blood of Christ is not a religion but a way of life. And although Christ’s body and blood in a sacramental sense is for his followers, he also insists that his flesh was given for the life of the world and should not be understood only in an ecclesiastical sense. Jesus himself is a life-giving sacrament of God’s love for the entire world.