The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel presents the Lord’s powerful teaching with regard to Christian Faith and the Eucharist.
Speaking symbolically, he says I am the living bread which comes down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever!
Clarifying this, he goes on to say that attainment of such eternal life is achieved by ‘believing’ the whole truth about himself revealed in Scripture, which is then confirmed mentally by feeding on the tokens of bread and wine offered at the Altar.
Immediately after saying this, and speaking quite matter-of-factly, he goes on to say, in effect, He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood in [true] holy communion, will have a concrete earthly experience of that eternal life here and now.
With this he is making plain that mental acceptance of spiritual truth about himself is just not enough. It must be accompanied by the ‘physical identification’ of the believer with his life, death, and resurrection indicated in biblical revelation.
In other words, such receiving completes believing! And those who receive not only tokens bread and wine, but feed upon his actual body and blood, actually share in the intimate communion that exists between the Father and the Son, indeed God’s own life in him.
Put still another way, receiving brings believing to completion.
Sadly, we read, many in the throng about him found both aspects of this teaching too “hard” to accept. Deep down these would be followers were unable to believe that Jesus was really from heaven (they knew Mary and Joseph) – to accept an incarnate God (who confronted them face-to-face, calling for response) – to grasp the mystery of divine love expressed in sacrificial death (the cross looming in the distance). Accordingly, many in the throng “drew back and no longer went about with him.”
Sad as this is, the Lord hereby presents would be followers as well as real disciples with a stark reality check: committed discipleship will never be easy, and always costly; real Christianity will never, ever be primarily a numbers game; the true Church will always experiences fall-off, a separation of goats from sheep.
On wondering about the disposition of the Twelve, Jesus, asks: Will you also go away? Responding for all, Peter says, in essence, “Never!” These are words of eternal life, spoken by the Holy One of God! Believing is receiving!
– JR Hiles
Adapted from a sermon, 08/27/06