Eating Christ

Icon of the Eucharist

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:52-59

Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so also the one who eats me will live because of me.

John 6:57; NABRE

The Father gives life (zóé) to the Son without beginning or end. All things come from and return to the Father, the fountainhead of life. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man are compared to receiving life from the Father. The phrase “flesh and blood” is a familial one:

Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death…

Hebrews 2:14

Applying earthly terms to divinity, the Son of God shares in the “flesh and blood” (life) of the Father, and thus “lives because of the Father.” In turn, the children of Adam share in the “flesh and blood” of the Son of God, and live because of the Son. 

By coming from the Father into the world and uniting flesh (sarx) to divinity (John 1:14), Jesus raised all of humanity and the cosmos to the Father. 

Many walked away from Jesus when he emphatically stated that eating and drinking his flesh and blood were necessary for eternal life.

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

John 6:52-55

Followers of Christ outside of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches interpret these texts metaphorically (e.g., that eating is believing), but Christian tradition from the beginning testifies to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. 

Cannibalism it is not, however, though early Christians were accused of it. In the speculations of St. Thomas Aquinas, the flesh and blood of Christ were never separated from the Godhead, even on the Cross and in the tomb.1 Thus, to eat and drink Christ means to eat and drink God Incarnate in the wholeness of his personal union of divinity and humanity. 

Those who left Jesus may have been repulsed by images of manslaughter and the consumption of blood, which were forbidden in Jewish law (Leviticus 7:26-27). Those who remained believed without comprehending. 

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.

John 6:56

For the believing disciples, remaining with Jesus at all cost took precedence over unanswered questions and incomprehension.

This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

John 6:58

The authenticity of the person of Christ, stamped with the Father’s seal (John 6:27), bonded his disciples to him. “To whom shall we go?” Peter asked (John 6:68). Outside of Christ, what hope was there for eternal life?

-GMC

1 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, q. 50, a. 2.

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