It is almost too much to comprehend: the ways in which the Body and Blood of Christ are present and real to us and nourish us. We have a type of this heavenly food in the manna in the desert, which Deuteronomy 8:3 says is food “which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord,” while 8:16 states that God “fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.” This physical food had a spiritual purpose, to direct the people of Israel to dependence upon God and God’s word.
Jesus refers to manna in John 6 after feeding a large crowd with barley loaves and a few fish. The crowd says to Jesus,
Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' “Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (6:31-35)
Again in John 6: 48-50 Jesus reveals himself as the fulfillment of the type of the manna: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”
Finally, Jesus speaks openly to the crowd he has just fed with bread and fish:
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (6:51)
It is a challenge for the crowd who heard it then, as it remains a challenge to those who hear it today: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Indeed, how can this be? Yet, the “how” is less important than the “be,” even while acknowledging the difficulties inherent in accepting or explaining the reality then and now. Without question there is at the ground of Jesus’ claims a necessary willingness to believe and to have faith, that he is who he said he was, that he has come from the Father to bring us eternal life, and that we participate in this life through the reception of the body and blood.
It is not just that we participate in the reception of the body of Christ, but that, as Paul tells us, we who participate are a part of the body of Christ: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). In this way, we are communally one body, as the people of Israel, dependent upon our spiritual food, wandering through this wilderness together toward the Promised Land. As not just receivers of the body of Christ, but as participants in the one body, let’s not forget our duty to aid each other along the way. This is not a zero sum game, in which I win when you lose, but a help for each other as we journey to eternity. Jesus multiplies our food as often as necessary so that all can be fed and so that the one body might be strong.
John W. Martens
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