Christ’s gift of his body, the Eucharist, is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC, nos. 10, 1324), for from it we have abundant life and reach the height of our spiritual life. Thus, in believing and living its grace, one lives forever.
There is something rare about the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of John chapter six. Unique from others of his gripping insights into the heavenly reality, as one who came down from heaven, his teaching in John six shocks and blows out of the window human ways of imagining religion. One notices that toward the end of the teaching, he lost lots of followers (Jn 6:66), who I classify as fans. Their sentiments of mobbish discipleship could not stand the audacity of the truth that shatters worldly ways of thinking and living.
Many scholars of culture and religion claim that religion is a way of making sense of the world in which we live. Phrased differently, religion is seen as a helpful cultural phenomenon for shared narratives. Many don’t mind giving faith-life a fair shake as it makes people form their maps of meaning or narratives of coping with the complex world. Hence, many religious texts and teachings are valuable or considered crucial to culture simply because it helps us to organize the world and draw archetypes of meaning.
While these are interesting perspectives, and many who hold on to them may mean well, the Lord’s teaching in John six upends any of these ways of looking at faith in God. For one, these views are exclusively humanistic and tend to surcharge faith to purely human affairs.
Yes, it is the human person who encounters God. Yes, we see God from our points of view as humans. Yes, human experiences are sources of relatable metaphors to make sense of the complex faith reality. Certainly, God continues to reveal himself in the ordinary things of our everyday life. But all these are as good as nothing compared to the revelation that Jesus states with utter categorical imperative in John six.
Bread of Life is God’s Way
The Blessed Lord makes this bold claim. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:51).
If there is one single chapter of the Bible for anyone who wants to know the foundation and highest point of Christian life, then John Chapter six would be a must-read. For example, these few verses of the Gospel of John 6:41-51 are contained a condensed version of the high point of our faith as Christians, Catholics to be precise. It states the mystery of the incarnation (verses 41-42), the thesis of faith as first a gift from God, the reality of grace (vs. 44-45), the maturity of faith, and everlasting life which occurs through the Eucharist (vs. 48-51), and salvation as continually, in faith and flesh, receiving the Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist (vs. 51).
The Eucharist is the sacrifice of God himself, who took flesh and became man at the fulness of time. He came from heaven to lift us to where we belong. In the Eucharist, we live in God’s abiding presence. We celebrate his life-giving memorial, which itself is not simply a memory of the past as it is a bringing to reality in his life-giving Word what Christ has done and continues to do for us. He abides with us in reality in the Liturgy. We participate in this sacrifice and life-giving presence in communion. We eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood and have life in abundance.
Call to Reverence
Thus, we are not in the Eucharist to feel good about ourselves or dance into a frenzy. Unlike a concert in a stately auditorium, we are in solemn worship before the Lord, doing what he did and what he has asked us to do. In essence, we are participating in the celebration. We aren’t the celebration or the host. We all are unmerited guests. Hence, we graciously accept what God has done for us and give the celebration its deserving solemnity as God’s work, not our work.