“As I am who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me” (John 6:57).
The trouble is we are too used to Jesus’ words. They should amaze us. And what Jesus says here is amazing.
Here’s another translation, more precise: “As the living Father sent me and I live through the Father, so whoever eats me will live through me” (RNJB).
Just to be confusing, here’s another translation: “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” (ESV).
Towards the end of his life, in 2003, St John Paul II wrote an encyclical on the Eucharist. He wrote it, he said, to “rekindle amazement”, Eucharistic amazement. And its first words are, “The Church lives from the Eucharist”. It’s an echo of our verse, John 6:57.
The Father lives, he is the living God. He’s so alive that when biblical characters meet him they fall down as if dead. They are overwhelmed by the intensity of this life. It’s neither our frantic, frenetic version nor our pale, sleepy version, lives of “quiet desperation”. It’s a Niagara Falls. The Father lives, the flowing source of everything. And what flows from him first of all, begotten before the day-star, is his only-begotten Son, his Word, his reiteration, God from God, Light from Light. And the living Father sends his Beloved into creation, into the world: the Word becomes flesh. And the Son, the Word, in his humanity now, as well as his divinity, lives from his Father, through him, because of him, for him too. Jesus loves to celebrate his Father. He’s not self-referential. His mind and heart are full of another. And then, characteristically again, Jesus turns to us. In a synagogue in Capernaum, the Word made flesh promises believers his flesh to eat and blood to drink. Eucharistic amazement. As I live from, through, because of, for the Father, so whoever eats me, feeds on me, will live from, through, because of, for me. I will be their raison d’etre, the ground of their life, the bread that sustains them, their nourishment, their love.
We live because our parents lived. We live for each other or another. We look all over for our “froms, throughs and becauses”. We find them in family or work or, less worthily, in money or power. In a way we are all fish caught in a net, squirming for our lives, or like a deer that is trapped in wire and thrashes around, doing itself more harm than good, and then suddenly goes limp. Think then of the living, merciful Father looking on the world and wanting it to live. And into our squirming and thrashing and limpness, the living Father sends his Son. And his Son says: “As the living Father sent me and I live through the Father, so whoever eats me will live through me.” “The medicine of immortality”.
It’s as if the Father, by sending the Son, has injected his life into the world, the vaccine to cancel the virus that cripples us. Or literally, a blood transfusion. Suddenly “through this vast and dreadful wilderness”, as Moses calls it, “in this waterless place” – maybe that’s a symbol of us – a great tide of divine life is running and the Son, by giving us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, channels it into our lives, irrigating us with it. His life is the Father, our life is him. He is full of the Father’s life – superlative life – and we can become full of his. This is the Gospel: that our fragile, fleeting, flickering life can suddenly open out to God, in faith, and receive sacramentally a mysterious influx, increase, increment, supplement – the life of Someone Else, the Christ-life, Christ living in us. So we can now live from him, through him, because of him, for him. “Christ our life”, St Paul calls him. “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ”. “I am alive, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. So far as I live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me”, and reminds me of that every time the Eucharist is celebrated. The Eucharist is the great vehicle for the entry of Christ’s life in to the world. The Eucharist livestreams this life, as nothing else.
For three months almost, public participation in the Mass has been suspended. We are looking forward to moving step by step back to that. But let’s remember, let’s feed on, draw life from, what has not been, cannot be suspended: the life that flows from the crucified and risen Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the grace infused with our baptism and confirmation, the possibility of living the Eucharist, the life of Christ that the Father has to give.
Corpus Christi often falls in June, the month – in our northern hemisphere – that’s most alive. This is the feast of the Christ-life that we open to by faith, receive through the sacraments, work to absorb. The word the Gospel uses for “eat” in this passage is used for eating that’s hard work, that needs a lot of chewing; it’s hard work ingesting and digesting this supernatural life. But this Christ-life is the very reason everything exists. It’s meant for each of us and all of us. Its final triumph will be our resurrection.
I just want to offer two incidents, experiences, description to help us see this. Both come from insightful Catholic women writers of about a century ago.
The first, Alice Meynell, was at Mass in church. She did not go to Communion, but a man near her did.
One of the crowd went up,
And knelt before the Paten and the Cup,
Received the Lord, returned in peace, and prayed
Close to my side…
Then – have we ever thought of this? – she begins to pray to Christ alive in him:
“O Christ, in this man’s life—
This stranger who is Thine—in all his strife,
All his felicity, his good and ill,
In the assaulted stronghold of his will,
“I do confess Thee here,
Alive within this life…
Within this lonely conscience, closed away
Within this brother’s solitary day
“Christ in his unknown heart…
That I shall never know, look on me!
“Christ in his numbered breath,
Christ in his beating heart and in his death,
Christ in his mystery! From that secret place
And from that separate dwelling, give me grace” (The Unknown God).
Christ alive in a life. And then, from the other voice, Caryll Houselander, a vision of Christ everywhere. It’s not immediately Eucharistic, but it’s only possible to someone who feeds on Christ and sees what the Lord intends and brings to perfection through the Eucharist:
“I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging – workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind…vividly.., Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in everyone of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them – but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this underground train; not only the world as it was at that moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come. I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere – Christ” (A Rocking-Horse Catholic).
“Whoever eats me will live from me”. “The Church lives from the Eucharist.” Lord, give us your life to live. Amen.
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen – live-stream)