19th Sunday Year B
Jesus said to the crowd: ‘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.’
There is something special about bread when you come to think about it. We do not think about it much because it is so ordinary; it is not cake or apple tart or Danish pastry, just plain ordinary bread. But bread in fact is altogether special. It is generous; it is there for others. Its whole purpose is to nourish. If it remained on the shelf, it would become stale and mouldy and would be of no use to anyone. When its work is done, it has nothing left for itself.
It is fitting that bread has a central place in our Christian faith. The Son of God came to live among us as a human being; he remains among us in the form of bread. The Holy See published a book on the Eucharist for the Jubilee Year; it described the Eucharist as “the ingenuity of wisdom and the foolishness of love.” It went on to say that “everything in the Eucharist derives from love carried to the extreme.”
Humble, silent, generous.
When Pope John Paul attended the Eucharistic Congress in Poland in 1997, he described Jesus in the Eucharist as humble, silent and generous. In a sense we can say that bread also is humble, silent and generous. In the Eucharist, Jesus takes bread and changes it into his own very self, into his body and blood, soul and divinity. When we receive him, he is humble and silent as he gives himself totally to us. How extraordinary that is!
Bread gives us energy and strength, but it lets us be ourselves. Likewise when Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist, he nourishes us and gives us strength. Yet we remain ourselves; indeed as he nourishes us week after week, we are gradually becoming our best selves.
At the same time he is changing us into himself. After all the people have received Holy Communion on a Sunday morning, we can look at them and say, “There is Jesus.” As the priest gives the final blessing and tells them, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we can say, “Jesus is in these people and is going out in them to love and serve in their community as he did in Palestine two thousand years ago.
Do this in memory of me.
When Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper to “do this in memory of me,” he was telling them to celebrate the Eucharist; but he was also telling them that they were to give themselves to others as he was giving himself to them. Pope John Paul quoted Brother Albert of Krakow: “we must be like bread which is on the table for everyone; each person who is hungry can cut a slice and eat it.” This is asking a lot, yet we all know people in our families and in our neighbourhoods who are like that; they may be ordinary and unassuming but they give themselves quietly and generously for others.
They do not see themselves as martyrs; what they do, they do willingly and cheerfully. They are aware of their own needs too and can allow others to be bread for them. Jesus himself accepted hospitality. On the night that he instituted the Eucharist he let the disciples know that he needed their company and support in his agony in the garden. On Calvary he cried out, “I am thirsty.” He had said himself, “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.” He knew how to give and how to receive.
What a wonderful way to live! How different our world would be if all people gave themselves as bread for others; no one would be hungry and there would be joy for everyone to share.
Lord, Jesus Christ, we worship you presence among us
in the sacrament of your body and blood.
May we offer to our Father in heaven
a solemn promise of undivided love.
May we offer to our sisters and brothers
a life poured out in loving service of the kingdom
where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen