We have come to the meat of Jesus’ argument in the Bread of Life discourse of John Chapter 6. In verse 51 Jesus makes the connection between the symbolic bread from heaven, the manna God gave them in the desert, and the new Bread from heaven, His Body: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Flesh is a strong word. Eating flesh is a lot different than eating bread. The mere idea of eating human flesh is enough to turn our stomachs. We can easily understand why the Jews asked: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Without our understanding of the Eucharist, we cannot accept Jesus’ words. Eating meat with the blood still in it is forbidden by the Law of Moses, and Jesus asks us to drink His Blood? How is this supposed to work?
Two things should jump out at us right away. First, if Jesus is merely human, this will never work; He is implying that He will do something miraculous to feed them. Second, Jesus is implying that He will have to die to be the sacrificial offering for them, yet will somehow continue to live as well: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”
It is no accident that Jesus gave this teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum on the eve of the Passover. The Rabbis were probably already preaching about Passover and the people preparing the paschal lambs for the temple sacrifice at that very time. Jesus is now connecting Himself to the Passover as well as the manna. Jesus is the innocent Lamb whose blood will be shed for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ Flesh will be the banquet feast for them that will allow them to leave slavery and enter into the freedom of God’s Kingdom. Jesus is the First-Born Son that is precious to the Father.
All these symbols come together in the person of Jesus, who can pay the price for our sins because He is God and can shed His Blood and offer His Body because He is also human. Jesus’ dual nature also allows Him to be the priest that offers the sacrifice of the Eucharist to God on our behalf and allows Him to change bread and wine into His Body and Blood by his power as God.
Only one symbol remains to fill out our understanding of the Eucharist: the wood of the Cross. But, we will come to that next week.