This treatise is part of a three essay series on the Holy Eucharist written by Fr. Carlos Raines
“The Life is in The Blood”
The Meaning of the Holy Eucharist
As Jesus Taught it in John Chapter 6
In the last article about Bread and Wine we looked at Jesus’ words in John 6. He declared that He was the Bread come down from heaven, and all who eat of His flesh will never die. We considered what it must have been like to be a first century Jew hearing a famous Rabbi saying these words.
In the eyes of all the disciples it went downhill from there!
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying,“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Now Jesus has doubled down. Just to look at the verbs and nouns here is to be truly shocked: “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” and “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” and “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” and “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”
If we could be forgiven for modernizing Peter for a minute for effect, he would be saying to himself: “this is a PR disaster! What IS He talking about! I’ve NEVER heard a Rabbi dare to speak like this! He’s killing the movement! Who can follow this teaching! Whatever this may mean, I hope Jesus NEVER talks about this again! EVER!”
Sure enough, as His disciples must have feared, “many of His disciples” pulled back from following Him saying “this is a hard saying! Who can listen to it?”
But Jesus is ready for more rejection: to His 12 disciples He says, “Will you also leave me?” Peter says to Him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter is willing to set aside this most horrifying of all Jesus’ teachings, at least until he understands better what it might mean. He has by now already seen God’s presence so powerfully in Jesus that Peter is willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Hoping Jesus never mentions it again (maybe He just learned His lesson and we can get on with more important things?), Peter is willing to stay with Jesus. So are the rest of the twelve.
So why did Jesus dare invite the disciples to “abide in Him” by feeding upon His flesh and blood? Why would He have suffered losing good disciples who understandably could not in good conscience listen to this? The answer to this perplexing question must be because this teaching was so important, so central to the meaning of the Last Supper and after that, to the very life of the Early Church experienced weekly, that the shock value was part of the plan, part of the strategy in cementing the true meaning of the Holy Eucharist in the heart of every future believer. Interestingly, scholars point out that John’s gospel does not describe the Last Supper in the upper room per se. Instead John focuses on the foot washing and the last words of Jesus not included in the other gospels. Could this be because John’s teaching about the meaning of the Last Supper is contained in the 6th chapter we just looked at? As is often the case with his gospel, John promotes a teaching of Jesus that gives not the structure but the meaning of the Last Supper. And He identifies Himself as the Paschal Lamb...but the Paschal lamb with a new twist. The blood of the lamb does not go on the lintel and door posts of the homes of the faithful people, but into them, upon their very hearts. In the next article we will see why.