"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."Yesterday morning, I meditated on this selection. The passage, which was the appointed reading in my Eucharistic prayer manual, spoke of Jesus telling the people that his flesh and blood is given to us for the life of the world, and for the eternal life.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." (St. John 6.48-58 RSV)
Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Thanks be to God.
I’ve always loved this passage. Yet, it somehow struck a different dimension, unlike the typical commentary we hear about it relating to the Eucharist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Despite my strong High Church leanings, I subscribe to the typically Protestant doctrine *gasp* of the priesthood of all believers, which I do not find contrary to its more Catholic counterpart, the universal call to holiness and apostolate. Indeed, we all know that the Body of Christ describes the People the God - the Church. Christ gives the Church, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, as a gift for the life of the world, a community to live in him, as we build ourselves up for continuing his redemptive work – the Blood of Christ. When we partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, we actively proclaim our membership in the Church, and affirm that we partake in its mission. It is a sort of ID card we carry to work, a badge of our identification in Christ Jesus, and the pledge that he still redeems the sins of the world in the Church’s Great Commission. Thus he gives us, we his people who feed on him, as a gift for the life of the world.
The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is part, carries along with churches that continue in the Apostolic Succession, the ‘marks of the [true] church’: it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet how can we, the Body of Christ who are joined to the Blood of Christ, carry the marks of the church in our lives and in our service? So I thought about it a bit further, and this what I came up with.
-The Body and Blood of Christ are One. The Body of Christ follows the Head (Christ), and Christ gives his life-blood to the Body to nourish the Body’s one mission- the Great Commission. By means of the Body nourished by Blood, the Body reaches out to the world that the precious Blood shed on Calvary may save those who call on the Name of the one Lord Jesus Christ. The Body unites with Christ in his Church, and we continue to carry out his mission, united with the redemptive work of his Blood.
The Eucharist is One throughout time and space; it unites us not only to our Lord, but to the whole Church, past, future, and present.
-The Body and Blood of Christ are Holy. The Holy Spirit, Christ’s own first gift to those who believe, sanctifies the bread (which represents us, the many grains that form one loaf) and the wine (which again represents us, the many grapes that fill one cup) and reaffirms that we too are sanctified by water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism as a holy people, as Christ's Body. We therefore share in the Body of Christ and reach out as the Blood of Christ. As we who serve our one Lord are holy, through sanctification of the Holy Spirit who sustains us; thus our one mission is holy, through the sanctification of the same Holy Spirit, who leads us.
The Eucharist is Holy; it is sanctified by the Word and Holy Spirit, and by grace it furthers, strengthens, and confirms us in holiness to fulfil our mission worthily in the Name of Christ.
-The Body and Blood of Christ are Catholic. The Body of Christ, formed out of many grains (the people of many nations, tribes, and tongues) gather to form one bread (the Church). The Blood of Christ, pressed out of many grapes (the gifts that the peoples of many nations, tribes, and tongues bring) are joined into one cup (one mission we share). This Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, is of all people, formed of all people, reaches out to all people, and gives life to all people. Through us, and through our mission, Christ calls all people regardless of who they are, where they are from, what they bring, or what they have done, to come to him.
The Eucharist is Catholic; it proclaims the mystery of faith to all people and comes as a force of reconciliation for all who come to the altar of God.
-The Body and Blood of Christ are Apostolic. We are apostolic because the Body of Christ continues in the teaching, fellowship, and succession of the Apostles. The Blood of Christ is apostolic because our mission continues the apostolic mandate Christ gave his apostles and passes on to us, as we seek and serve, proclaim the Good News, break the bread, and give and pray.
The Eucharist is Apostolic; Christ instituted it to his apostles, and those who carry the apostolic mandate maintain the traditions taught to us by the Apostles regarding the Body and the Blood.
We are his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Body. And we share in his one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Blood. For eternal life, we eat of him, and so share in his Body. For the life of others, we drink of him, and so continue his work. Through the Body, his Church, he comes to dwell in us as we gather and agree in his Name. Through the Blood, his work the Church continues, he reaches out to all that they too, may join his Body; and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, we and they may unite to his sacrifice.
So we humbly pray:
Holy and gracious Father:
recalling your Son’s death, resurrection, and ascension,
we offer you ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice.
As we have been redeemed through him,
so continue to sanctify us by your Word and Holy Spirit
that we, who are the Body of Christ,
and we have been made a new people
through water and the Spirit,
we may live in you, and have you to dwell in us.
Sanctify us also by your Word and Holy Spirit,
to work as the Blood of Christ,
that we may serve you in unity, constancy, and peace;
and so worthily serve and renew the Creation,
to the glory of your most holy Name.
All this we ask through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
our great High Priest, the firstborn of all creation,
the head of the Church, and the author of salvation.
By him, and with him, and in him,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all honour and glory is yours, Almighty Father,
now and for ever.