The Bread That Comes Down from Heaven

Today’s Gospel is an excerpt from the Bread of Life Discourse in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.  “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus, the true bread of life sent down from heaven by God which gives life to the world.

Many, many words have been written about this passage and about the Eucharist.  One of my favorites comes from Michael Himes’ book, The Mystery of Faith: An Introduction to Catholicism, which I have referred to here before and which I often recommend to people.  It is the first passage that comes to my mind when I read this portion of John’s Gospel.

Himes offers a beautiful way to think about what Jesus as the bread of life means for us.  He writes

Not only does the Eucharist make us who we are, it tells us where we are going….The eucharistic celebration centers on bread that we believe becomes the body of Christ and on wine that we believe becomes the blood of Christ.  Consider that bread for a moment.  There is no intrinsic difference between the bread which becomes the Eucharist and the bread that we popped into the toaster at breakfast or that we will use for sandwiches for lunch.  There is no intrinsic difference between the wine that will become the Eucharist and the wine that we drink with friends at dinner.  If this bread can become the body of Christ, why not all that other bread?  If this wine can become the blood of Christ,why not all wine?  If bread grown from soil and nurtured by sunlight and watered by rain, if grapes tended by vine-dressers and grown with the help of the sun can become the presence of Christ, then why not the sun, the soil and the rain?  Why not the vine, why not the wheat?  In fact, if this tiny fragment of the material world can be transformed into the fullness of the presence of Christ, and therefore the fullness of the presence of God in human terms, then why not the whole material universe?  And that is, of course, precisely the point.

Bread and wine alone may seem like little things.  But they convey the reality that, in Himes words, “[t]he whole universe is destined to be transformed into the presence of Christ, the fullness of God in the flesh.  The whole universe is destined to be transformed into the presence of God in Christ.”  Thus, he suggests, “the Eucharist makes us who we are and reveals to us where we are going,”  and what when we say we are a “Eucharistic people”, what we are saying, in a sense, is that we know what the destiny of the world is.

By the Eucharist we are transformed.  By the Eucharist we become part of the transformation of the entire universe into the presence of God.