The desert, the vast and dreadful wilderness, through which the people of Israel wandered for many years before arriving at the promised land, was a place of testing and learning. And Moses gives a particular meaning to the mana, the bread like substance with which God fed his people. ' God humbled you, he made you feel hunger, he fed you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but on everything that comes from the mouth of a God'.
Jump forward now to the Gospel, chapter 6 of St. John's gospel in which our Lord teaches the mystery of the holy Eucharist. 'I am the bread of life come down from heaven, you must eat this bread which is my flesh given for the life of the world'. The doubt and questioning of his listeners draws us into the mystery of God made man as Jesus speaks ever more plainly 'whoever eats me draws life from me'. Jesus is God made man. Jesus is the word of God. In the flesh. Jesus' human body, human soul, human nature is inseparably united with the Divine Word of God. We cannot accept only the word of God but not Jesus with his risen human body. They have to go together. Man lives on every word that comes from the mouth of God, but Jesus with his human body is that Word. As Jesus says if you do not eat my body and drink my flesh you will not have life in you.
These blunt words of Jesus are hard to accept. In part that is because we make the mistake of thinking that this life, what I see and know and experience is the only reality, that this life, my experience is the measure of all things. But that was the point of the testing in the desert it's not bread alone that gives us life. There is more.
We think bread is that food which we eat each day and which keeps us alive. When Jesus speaks of bread we relate what he says to our understanding of bread. But in fact it's the other way around. True bread, real bread is what Jesus gives. He says 'my flesh is real food my blood is real drink'. The bread, the food and drink we buy in the shops and eat is an imitation, a shadow, a pale reflection of this real food. The bread and drink we buy and eat keeps us alive for a few years, real food, real drink keeps us alive for ever. The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the word of God who gives himself to us at Mass is real food, nothing else that can never fully satisfy or give life.
This unites us. 'though there are many of us we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf' says St Paul. It is the Eucharist which forms the Church because the Eucharist is the body of Christ. It's not just that what you eat becomes part of you, but in receiving Holy Communion we, heart, body, mind and soul, in our entirety, willingly welcome the word of God, ask him to be part of us, accept the gift he gives us which is himself, his unconditional promise of love and forgiveness, his teaching, his call to discipleship, his promise of eternal life. We have tasted real bread, real food, nothing else will do.
There is so much to learn and know and love about the gift of a Holy Communion because it is the self gift of a God. Today I have suggested we reflect upon the Eucharist in three ways: 1st the Word of God by which we live cannot be separated from the human body, soul and nature of Christ. To receive one is to receive the other. 2nd The Eucharist is real bread real food, all other food is a pale imitation that points to it. And 3rd To receive Holy Communion is to accept Jesus whole and entire, everything he is, does and teaches.
May all who can today make a, prayerful, loving and grateful Holy Communion.