We’re continuing our journey through chapter six of John’s Gospel, the chapter devoted to the Eucharist. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke give an account of the Last Supper at which Jesus gave new meaning to the bread and wine of that Passover meal. “While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said: ‘Take this. This is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’” (Mark 13:22-24)
In his account of the Last Supper John does not make mention of Jesus breaking bread and sharing wine. Instead, Jesus delivers a lengthy discourse in which he refers to himself as the True Vine. It’s during this discourse that he gives his new commandment: “Love one another as I love you.” (John 15:12)
However, it’s in chapter six of John’s Gospel where Jesus defines himself as bread. “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:48, 51) Mark, Matthew and Luke define the Eucharist in terms of the new covenant that is renewed each time the sacred meal is celebrated. This is a covenant not sealed with the blood of sacrificial animals, but by the blood of Jesus.
Paul had his own insight into the Eucharist. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in memory of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we enter the eternal moment of redemption, the moment Jesus emptied himself completely, the moment he sealed the new covenant with his blood.
Let’s put these teachings together. If we only take the Last supper accounts, and say that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus, what we say is true – but incomplete. If we say that the Eucharist is the eternal renewal of God’s covenant with humanity, it’s true, but there’s more. If we say that Jesus feeds us with his very life, the Bread of Life, and that we’re intimately bound to him as branches on the Vine, again we are teaching the truth but it’s not complete.
All of these teachings guide us in our reflection of the Mystery of the Eucharist. None of these insights stand alone. They’re closely knit, and each, in its own way sheds light on the Mystery.
The Eucharist is the sacrifice of the New Covenant, renewed each time we gather for the Eucharistic Celebration. The Eucharist is our food, the body and blood of Jesus, our Bread of Life. The Eucharist keeps us intimately connected to the True Vine so that Jesus ministry can continue through us in Truth.
The Eucharist can never be fully defined. For over 2000 years the Church has reflected on this wonderful Mystery and will continue to do so throughout its existence. Today, let remember that the Eucharist bring us together as the Church. It feeds us, the Church, strengthening us with the very life of Jesus. The Eucharist is the manifestation of God’s eternal love. So we continue to reflect, to ponder in awe this great Mystery.