Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Reflection: Accepting Christ’s invitation
By SISTER MARY McGLONE
“Get ready for a trip!”
That could well be our call to worship as we begin the celebration of this “Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.”
We start this journey remembering the long trek of our Israelite ancestors in the desert. As we think of them, it’s helpful to be aware that the scriptural sense of remembering implies reliving an event ourselves, entering into the story and being transformed by it in our day and our way, getting our own taste of the original participants’ experience.
This is precisely what Moses calls for in our reading from Deuteronomy. Moses tells them, “Remember how … Remember how God let you be tested so that you would learn just how faithful you were willing to be. Remember how in your hunger you were ready to give up on God until desperation helped you recognize God’s care for you in ways you had never expected. Remember what happened to you as you journeyed with God for all those years. Remember, you were slaves. Now, if you are willing, you can be free.”
Moses invited the people to remember so that they could continue discovering God’s love and care in ever-new ways. With that start, we can approach Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel as a long meditation on God’s new way of giving life through Jesus.
The Gospel of John, written about 60 years after Jesus’ resurrection, is more a theological reflection than a historical or biographical document. At the risk of oversimplification, one might suggest that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke can be experienced as invitations to contemplate of the life of Jesus while John invites us into mysticism, the experience of word of God drawing us into union with Christ in ways that go beyond words.
Very often in John, Jesus says things that people understand on the most mundane level possible. He then invites them to think more profoundly until they become caught up in unexpected depths of insight which lead to union with him. (Remember the ideas of being born again in Chapter 3, the living water in Chapter 4, etc.) The move from the superficial to the depths is the very process through which Jesus has tried to lead disciples from the day of their/our calling through his ascension, and on through today.
Our selection from John 6 is a small excerpt from a long story and discourse which includes the miraculous sharing of bread and fish, Jesus’ walking on the water, and a full discourse that includes the summary selection we hear today. Jesus’ core idea here is: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in her/him.” This teaching can be taken in such a literal way that it sounds disgusting and/or impossible. Remembering John’s literary techniques, we know we need to look deeper. What was Jesus trying to say?
When we consider the experience of eating and drinking, we become aware of two things: eating and drinking are absolutely necessary for life and what we eat becomes a part of us — it literally becomes our flesh and blood. Although we rarely consider it, the most intimate connection we have in life is with what we eat. By comparing our reception of himself to food, Jesus reveals his desire for such an intimate connection with us that it can only be expressed by saying, “I dwell in you.” Astoundingly, he adds, “and you dwell in me.” With these words, Jesus explains that he is inviting us into the profound mutuality we call communion.
When we meditate on this, another idea draws our attention. Jesus gives us an additional explanation saying, “Just as I have life because of the father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” As we also hear in John 17:22-23, Jesus is inviting his disciples to take him in as the bread of life, to become one in him and share in his own life and relationship with the father. Paul summarizes this for the Corinthians that by saying that as they share the bread and cup, they become one body in Christ.
Where does this feast invite us to go?
Like the entire Gospel of John, it invites us to venture beyond what we see and to imbibe Christ’s invitation to communion. As we do so, we remember that although each of us must accept the invitation personally, we are invited into this communion with God in Christ as members of the body of Christ, a people who share the same mission to bring and be communion for all the world.
This becomes the trip of a lifetime.
(Deuteronmy 8: 2-3, 14b-16a)
Moses said to the people:
“Remember how for forty years now the LORD, your God,
has directed all your journeying in the desert,
so as to test you by affliction
and find out whether or not it was your intention
to keep his commandments.
He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger,
and then fed you with manna,
a food unknown to you and your fathers,
in order to show you that not by bread alone does one live,
but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.
“Do not forget the LORD, your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
that place of slavery;
who guided you through the vast and terrible desert
with its saraph serpents and scorpions,
its parched and waterless ground;
who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock
and fed you in the desert with manna,
a food unknown to your fathers.”
(Psalm 147: 12-15, 19-20)
(1 Corinthians 10: 16-17)
Brothers and sisters:
The cup of blessing that we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread that we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Because the loaf of bread is one,
we, though many, are one body,
for we all partake of the one loaf.
Sequence — Lauda Sion
Laud, O Zion, your salvation,
Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise you know,
He is more than you bestow.
Never can you reach his due.
Special theme for glad thanksgiving
Is the quick’ning and the living
Bread today before you set:
From his hands of old partaken,
As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.
Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:
For today the feast is holden,
When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.
Here the new law’s new oblation,
By the new king’s revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:
Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.
What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:
And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.
Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:
Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.
Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.
Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ’tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.
Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.
(John 6: 51-58)
Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
“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.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”