“I believe there is a life in the Eucharist that can live on through death,” Sister Margaret Farley once said to me. She was echoing “the words of eternal life” in John 6, but her remark led me to see that the question of eternal life is not simply “Is there a life after death?” but rather “Is there a life in us now that can live on through death?”
– John S. Dunne (Deep Rhythm and the Riddle of Eternal Life, pp. 65-86)
The readings for Corpus Christi Sunday can be found here.
Scripture scholars will tell you that the verses of our Sunday reading for Corpus Christi were added as part of the final editing process for the Gospel. Verse 51 is usually split into part A and part B by most scripture scholars. In the first part of the verse 51 Jesus reiterates a theme stated in verses before this, namely that Jesus is the bread of life, the Manna from heaven. The second part refers to bread as the “flesh” for eternal life. The first part belongs to the discourses associated with the verses before it, while the second part transitions into what can be described as the eucharistic practices of the Johannine community.
The Gospel of John is built around symbols and signs and cannot be read literally, but the Johannine community was filled with folks just like us who have a difficult time grasping all those symbolic nuances. Because of this the eucharistic practices of the Johannine community were added to help them make the connection. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…” There were still those in the Johannine community who lacked understanding, and the disciples echoed their words “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60)
Our faith communities today are not so different from those that existed in the early church. At the writing of John’s Gospel Jesus was not physically present for the people to see and the absence of the actual person of Jesus was problematic for the faith community. We are much the same way today as our human nature is always looking for proof or evidence in our physical reality. Reading John’s Gospel you will see many words of reassurance that Jesus is present with us, but the faith community back then asked how Jesus could be present and not physically here? John explains that the flesh and blood at their eucharistic celebration is where Jesus is present.
Jesus asks; “Does this offend you?” (John 6:61)
Will we treat the world around us as incarnational or simply as material? To do the former requires faith. Keeping the flesh together with the spirit requires us to live deeply, appreciating our interdependence and interconnectedness with the Creator, the creation, and our fellow creatures.By inviting us to eat and drink of his whole person, Jesus asks us to risk living incarnationally, becoming whole as both flesh and spirit, as the means of our salvation.”
– Loye Bradley Ashton
Jesus says; “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless. These words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be that the interpretation of Jesus’ “body and blood” has to be internalized. Jesus is the bread of life and to eat his flesh and drink his blood requires becoming whole in our flesh and our spirit. Accept nothing less. This is our salvation.