The Word Among Us

Easter 2017 Issue

I Am the Bread of Life

At every Mass, Jesus offers us a share in his resurrection.

I Am the Bread of Life: At every Mass, Jesus offers us a share in his resurrection.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

In lofty cathedrals and humble chapels throughout the world, this joyful proclamation rings out on Easter Sunday. Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead. The grave could not hold him, and sin could not conquer him. Now risen in victory, Jesus invites all of us to share in his triumph.

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we are invited to “taste and see” God’s goodness (Psalm 34:9). Every time we eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood, we have the opportunity to be filled up with his grace, his life, and his love. That’s because at every Mass, we come in touch with the crucified and risen Lord. We recall his death on the cross, and we celebrate his resurrection into glory.

In this special Easter issue, we want to take a look at how we can experience Jesus’ presence and receive the power of his resurrection at Mass. Let’s begin by examining how much God loves to feed us with the Bread of Life, which is his own spiritual food.

A New Passover. More than twelve hundred years before Jesus was born, the Israelites were miraculously set free from slavery in Egypt. With a series of plagues and the dramatic parting of the Red Sea, it was a wondrous show of God’s power. They were free, but they still had to journey across the desert before they came to the Promised Land—and it was a dangerous journey, during which food and water were scarce.

More than once, the people began to think that God had abandoned them. But each time, he proved his love and care for them. He gave them water from a rock, and he fed them with manna from heaven—every day. These constant reminders showed them that God truly was with them, guiding them and nourishing them along the way.

Centuries later, Jesus did something similar. After having taught a large group of people for a very long time, he saw that the crowd had grown hungry. They needed physical food to go along with the spiritual food he had been giving them. So he fed them all, using only five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15).

As he tells the story, John makes it clear that this miracle took place just before the feast of Passover. He also tells how the crowd connected the miracle of the loaves to the “manna in the desert” and the “bread from heaven” that Moses had given their ancestors (John 6:31). When he multiplied the loaves and fish, Jesus was giving us a sign of the new Passover he was going to bring about. He was giving us a new kind of heavenly bread.

In the desert, the Israelites ate manna every day, but they continued to get hungry. But Jesus promised that everyone who eats this new bread, “which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world,” would never again be hungry or thirsty (John 6:33). He was bringing about a new Passover, one that focused not on deliverance from hunger but from the power of sin and death. Everyone, he said, who ate his Body and drank his Blood with faith, would be raised up “on the last day,” just as he would be raised up on Easter Sunday (6:40).

A Doubting Crowd. After he fed the people, Jesus began to teach them about the new bread that would come with the new Passover. This bread, he told them, “is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51). Looking back, we can see that Jesus was speaking about the cross. It was there that he gave up his life “as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). It was there that he showed himself to be the new Messiah.

But there was a problem. The people wanted the bread, but they didn’t want Jesus. His words about offering up his flesh ran contrary to their thinking. They were expecting a kingly Messiah who would usher in a new age of freedom and peace for Israel, not a suffering Messiah who would sacrifice himself for them (John 6:14; Deuteronomy 18:15).

“This saying is hard,” they complained. “Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). It seems they had some grasp of what Jesus meant when he said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. They sensed that he was speaking about a spiritual feeding. The problem was that they saw Jesus as an ordinary carpenter from Nazareth—how could he give them bread from heaven? How could he free them from Roman occupation? And so many people left him.

But not everyone gave up on Jesus. Still not knowing why he had given such a hard teaching, Peter and the apostles remained. You can imagine Peter weighing all of this in his mind and asking himself, “Is there anyone who speaks to my heart the way Jesus does? Is there anyone who performs magnificent miracles as he has done? Is there anyone like him who loves both saints and sinners? Who else can promise eternal life? No one. He must be the ‘Holy One of God’ (John 6:69).”

A Union of Love. While celebrating the Passover at the Last Supper, Jesus again spoke about our need to eat the Bread of Life. Holding up the Passover bread, he told his disciples, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he offered them the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (22:20).

What Jesus promised at the feeding of the five thousand, he instituted at the Last Supper. And what he instituted at the Last Supper, he made possible on the cross when he literally gave his flesh “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). And what he made possible on the cross, he manifested to the whole world when he rose from the dead on the first Easter.

For our part, we embrace Jesus’ words by faith, by embracing him as our Savior. Many of the people who were miraculously fed by Jesus could not accept him, even though they ate the bread. At the Last Supper, Judas ate the bread Jesus had blessed and broken, but the bread didn’t change him. It didn’t move him to abandon his plans of betrayal.

What about us? How can we be sure we are accepting Jesus and his word? It begins by asking, as Peter did, “Where else can I experience God’s presence so deeply?” Of course there are other options. Jesus told us to pray and read Scripture if we want to find him. He told us to repent of our sins if we want to enter into his presence. He told us that loving others will draw us into his presence.

But none of these practices match the Eucharist. When we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, we are accepting Jesus in a physical, tangible way. We are opening ourselves to a relationship of love and unity that goes beyond words and gestures. We are accepting Christ in us, “the hope for glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Think about the love between a husband and wife. There is a magnetic force between them that draws them close to each other. They know that they belong to each other, and they enjoy being together. They will even just sit together without having to say much or do much. Just being with each other fills them with love. This is the kind of love and unity we can experience as we come to Mass, asking, “Lord, where would I be without you?”

Receive the Risen Lord! From the very beginning, God has longed to feed us, care for us, and lift us up to eternal life with him, and he has constantly been at work to fulfill his longing.

• The history of Israel shows him forming and teaching his people faithfully and tirelessly.

• With the coming of Jesus, that personal love took on human flesh as Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and fed the hungry.

• At the Last Supper, Jesus gave us his own Body and Blood as an eternal covenant so that people in every land and in every age could be filled with his love and his grace.

• Through his cross, he destroyed the power of sin and death that kept us separated from him.

• Through his resurrection, he opened the gates of heaven so that we could be with him forever.

• Finally, when he comes again in glory, Jesus’ eternal longing, his centuries-long plan, will reach its fulfillment. We will join in the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9). We will live with him forever, united in an unbreakable bond of love.

These are the truths of our faith. These are the truths that can come alive in us more and more as we accept Jesus’ invitation to “take and eat . . . take and drink.” So when you receive the Eucharist this Easter season, fix your mind on these truths. Contemplate them. Repeat them to yourself. Thank God for them. Then, when you come to the altar, you’ll find yourself feeling great hope and expectation—because you are receiving the risen Lord!