At last the Churches are opening! Public masses are still a few weeks away, however. And as this sacramental fast draws to a close, we’re hungry. Hungry for the Living Bread, hungry for the body of Christ. Like the first reading says, God has humbled us and has made us feel hunger during this pandemic. But he does that so that we can realise even more the greatness of his gift. You know what it’s like to eat a meal when you’re really hungry – it tastes great! “Hunger is the best sauce,” as they say. Today, though, we’re a bit like people reading a menu when they’re still a few hours away from dinner…! Because we’re meditating on this incredible gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, given to us in the form of bread and wine, when we can’t receive it. However spiritual communion is real; whereas just reading the menu won’t give you strength, contemplating the mystery of the Eucharist will, even if it’s not the same as receiving it sacramentally.
In today’s Gospel the Jews ask, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ We believe that in the Eucharist Jesus gives us his body as food. We believe it’s true just because he says so. But we too can ask ourselves, how can it be? The first way of answering this, is to remember who is speaking. Jesus is God; when he says, ‘This is my body,’ it is God speaking, of whom it is said, ‘By his word the heavens were made.’ At his word everything sprung into being: just because he said so. He is the creator, and when he speaks, it comes to be. But even more than this. Jesus is not only God whose word is creative, whose word creation obeys; he himself is the Word of God in person. All Jesus’ life is God speaking himself to us, he himself is God’s definitive word to us. The Incarnation not only happened at God’s Word, it was God’s Word, God’s eternal Word. Because Jesus is the Word, he is what he says he is – he is whatever he says he is. We can’t do this. Sometimes we wish we could: we wish we could just say the word and change what we are, redefining our gender for example. But this is a confusion, and it won’t really help us, because that’s not true to who we are. In Jesus, however, God, remaining true to who he is, humbled himself and at a word became man, to speak his love to us; and at a word, Jesus humbled himself still further and became our food, to speak his love to us. And this happens at every mass, as the priest holds the host and the chalice and says the words of Jesus.
So we can answer this question, ‘how can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ by pointing to the great creative power and freedom of God’s love, by which he humbles himself among us. But there is another way of answering. How did Jesus give us his flesh to eat? By being broken. To become our food Jesus, the living Bread, was broken on the cross. One of the earliest names for the Eucharist was the breaking of the bread. The priest breaks the bread. And the symbol is especially powerful when we use the big host which is broken into many pieces. By this gesture we remember that for Jesus to become our food, he was broken on the cross. He was shred out so that we could learn to share. He accepted to be broken to heal our brokenness – the brokenness of our lives, the brokenness of our families, the brokenness of our societies.
Racism, which we’ve all been thinking about a lot recently, is a great crack through the fabric of our society, but Jesus’ Eucharistic love is the healing of that crack. The bread is broken and distributed to all, so that we can all become one body. ‘Though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf,’ writes St Paul. The greatest hope for the healing of racism, whether in America or in our country or elsewhere, is when people of different races like us come together and are “united in prayer and friendship”, aiming not just at coexistence but at communion together. Because the only love that will truly satisfy our longing for peace and justice and respect and community is the love that was in Jesus’ heart as he carried his cross to Calvary, the love by which he was broken on the cross, but also the love that triumphed over hatred and death on Easter morning; the love that is given to us in the Eucharist.
Br. Philip Thomas-Edwards, CSJ