The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever 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 feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
- John 6:52-59
It is near Passover, and Jesus has been teaching about Himself as the "bread of life," after feeding five thousand in the wilderness. In our current readings, He's teaching (and disputing with the leadership) in the synagogue at Capernaum. The rulers of the synagogue then complained about Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." And they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus therefore answered and said to them, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever 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 feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven -- not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. We remember that the term "the Jews" is used as a political term in John's Gospel, and it denotes the leadership and officials. Here, my study bible says that Christ was crucified in the flesh and His blood was shed on the Cross, and on the third day He was raised in a glorified state. We receive the grace of Christ's sacrificial offering by coming to Him in faith (see this reading) and by receiving Holy Communion in faith. In Communion, we mystically eat His flesh and drink His blood, and this works with our faith to grant eternal life, with Christ abiding in us and us in Him. My study bible quotes St. Hilary of Poitiers, who says of this section: "There is no room left for any doubt about the reality of His flesh and blood, because we have both the witness of His words and our own faith. Thus when we eat and drink these elements, we are in Christ and Christ is in us."
What does it mean that Christ is mystically present -- that we eat His flesh and drink His blood -- in the Eucharist? This practice and understanding was established from the time of the earliest Church. In 1 Corinthians, chapter 11, St. Paul writes, "Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body." The reality is that from the earliest times of the Church, Christ's words here and at the Last Supper were taken faithfully and put into practice. This is one of the great mysteries of the Church, just as is the mystery of how Christ will raise us up at the last day, or how we participate in His energies through this mystical supper, how it is that He will none of what has been given to Him by the Father (see this recent reading). The mystical reality of the Church itself, worked in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, is one into which we are initiated, invited, and participate in through faith. So it is with His words, which convey the depth and breadth of relationship into which Jesus has come into the world so that we may be a part of it. How many of us ponder these words when we take the Eucharist? How many of us understand the great help it is meant to be, and the serious nature of its work in us? Let us, then, take it seriously that we are given so great a gift, for which we are truly thankful (the word eucharisto in Greek means "thanks"). We have repeated observed the ties to Exodus in this chapter of John. In the Exodus, God fed His people manna and gave them drink from a miraculous source of water (Exodus 16:1-17:7). Here, Christ declares Himself to be the true food and drink, the true bread that has come down from heaven. In these parallels, the Church is given to understand Christ as the fulfillment of the old covenant, and the breaking of His body and shedding of His blood, freeing us from the slavery of sin, fulfill the sacrifice of the Passover lambs, which brought the people out of slavery into the Promised Land. This gift was once and for all, and its gift is inexhaustible. In the divine liturgy of St. Basil the Great, it is said of the Communion, "The Lamb of God is broken and distributed; broken but not divided. He is forever eaten yet is never consumed, but He sanctifies those who partake of Him." Let us remember and cherish the ever-giving gift, with its work of always making all things new.