Bread of Heaven

The eucharist is different from the other sacraments. Jesus never said, “Friends, this water [of baptism] is my spittle,” or “this nard [of chrismation, ordination, and unction] is the oil of my brow.” But he did say that the Bread is his Body, and the Wine his Blood. Nor did he say that the Bread is “sort of like” his Body. He could of course have done so, if that is what he had meant to say. But instead he stated a straightforward, in your face identity between the Bread and his Body, and between the Wine and his Blood; and, since Jesus is identical with God, we are not at liberty to interpret his statement in any other way. The many disciples who instantly abandoned him on account of this “hard teaching” certainly didn’t; they figured that he was a lunatic because he said:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world …  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him … This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. (John 6:47ff)

Is there any way he might have indicated the identity between the Body of his Incarnation and the Bread of his Presence more explicitly? Whatever the undoubted metaphysical difficulties of the Real Presence, if Jesus is Really Present in the elements, then they just are him, and it behooves us to grapple with this fact. It is, indeed a difficult teaching. How may we understand it?

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