Jesus said, “This is my Body… This is my Blood” (Mk 14:22, 24).
Similar sayings are in Luke and Matthew, but not in John – where the Last Supper scene describes the washing of the Apostles’ feet. The discourse on Holy Communion in John, however, is found in Chapter Six, starting at verse 35 and intensifying from verse 48 onwards.
“I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).
“In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53).
“For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (Jn 6:55).
The above are Jesus’ teachings in the synagogue at Capernaum. Below are the reactions from some of his listeners. “After hearing it, many of his followers said, ‘This is intolerable language! How could anyone accept it?’… After this many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more” (Jn 6:60, 66).
Many Christians interpret Jesus’ sayings literally. The disciples in the above Gospel passage certainly did. It was the reason they left him.
While they were walking off, a most astounding thing happened. Jesus did not shout out after them in panic: “Wait. Stop. Please don’t go. I am sorry. I used the wrong words. I was only speaking in symbols. I don’t mean what you think I was saying. You don’t eat me – you eat bread and drink wine.” No! He let them go. He was speaking literally! He meant what he said. This was the sacrament of his limitless love, the food that would lead to life everlasting, and one tangible way he chose to keep his promise: “I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Mt 28:20).
He asserted, “Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day” (Jn 6:54).
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person” (Jn 6:56).
“As the living Father sent me and I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will also draw life from me” (Jn 6:57).
Jesus sometimes identifies himself (or someone else, e.g., John the Baptist or St. Paul identify him) as an entity like the lamb of God, or the good shepherd, or light, love, peace, the resurrection, etc. An example is seen in the gospel according to John where Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). This is different from saying, “I show the way, I proclaim the truth, I give life.” Jesus is telling us that to find the way we have to walk along him, to know the truth we need to know him, to have life we must live in him and let him live in us.
So, when he says, “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:35), what do you think he wants you to do?
At Cana in Galilee, the first time a description of Jesus at a banquet was recorded, he changed water into wine. At the upper room in Bethany, the last time a description of Jesus at a banquet on earth was chronicled, Jesus changed wine into his own blood. At Calvary, on the cross, as he died, he was pierced on the side, and his blood poured forth into the world for the redemption of those who wanted it.
At the Last Supper, he had taken a cup and, after giving thanks, he handed it to the disciples saying: “Drink from this, all of you, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.” (Mt 26:27-29)
If you want to be at the final banquet, the one in Heaven, do as Jesus commanded.
(The above Biblical quotations are taken from the New Jerusalem Bible.)