June 13, 2017 // Columns
‘I am the living bread, come down from heaven’
Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
This weekend the church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, perhaps better known by its Latin translation, “Corpus Christi.”
The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy recalls the passage of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. Moses is the central figure in this book, in the Pentateuch, and in the list of ancient Hebrew prophets. He is the principal figure in this weekend’s reading.
To understand this book, and indeed to grasp the plight of the Hebrews as they fled from slavery in Egypt, across the Sinai Peninsula and eventually to the Promised Land, it is necessary to realize how bleak and sterile the Sinai was — and still is, for that matter.
The fleeing Hebrews virtually were helpless. They faced death from starvation, as well as from thirst. Food and water were in short supply at best.
Through Moses, God supplied. As a result, the people lived. They did not starve. Eventually, they arrived at the Promised Land.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. Along with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, First Corinthians provides the New Testament records of the institution of the Eucharist.
The presence of this record in First Corinthians indicates how important the Eucharist was in early Christianity. The similarity among all the accounts shows how carefully the first Christians wished to repeat the Last Supper.
St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, and it is powerful and eloquent. Jesus states: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world”.
Jesus used no symbolic phrases, no vague illusions. The biblical texts are clear. He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” directly and exactly. It is a simple, straightforward declaratory sentence. Not surprisingly, the first Christians, as does Catholic teaching today, remembered the Lord’s words as literal.
Few Americans die of starvation, despite the chronic poverty endured by many, but millions around the world literally starve. It is a plight that the desperate Hebrews feared as they traveled across the Sinai Peninsula, as recalled by Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading.
They were completely at the mercy of an unknown and very unforgiving land. They had no way out. They could help themselves very little. Without food and water, without any direction as to where to go, they were facing death itself.
God supplied them with food and water, pointing them on the right path to the Promised Land. God gave them life.
Even if we experience material plenty, we all are in circumstances similar to those confronted by the ancient Hebrews. Today, as humans have been in any time, we are lost in our own stark and sterile Sinai Peninsulas created by sin and human limitation.
Perhaps the worst danger is that so often assume that we know where we are, where we should go with our lives, and that we have more control that we actually have.
In fact, we too are at the mercy of harsh, even deadly conditions surrounding us. In the spiritual sense we all are vulnerable to the eternal death created by sin.
Here, God enters the picture. He gives us Jesus, the son of God. The Lord gives us the Eucharist. As the early Christians so firmly believed, the Eucharist is not merely a symbol. The Eucharist is the Lord’s “body, blood, soul and divinity.” In the Eucharist, we intimately connect with Jesus, unite with Jesus. Jesus gives us life.
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