Solemnity of the Body of and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, Year A



Solemnity of the Body of and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, Year A

First Reading: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a; Response: Psalm 137:12-13, 14-15, 19-20; Second Reading: 1 Corinth 10:16-17; Gospel: John 6:51-58

A major theme throughout the three readings for the Solemnity celebrating the Body and Blood of his Son is God’s provision of food and drink for his people. A second major theme is the elevation of the basic elements of human food and drink from natural nourishment to supernatural nourishment. In the first reading, we hear Moses addressing the Israelites during their journey from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Land of Promise. By that time, they had moved from Mt. Sinai (Mt. Horeb) in the south to the Plains of Moab east and northeast of the Dead Sea. Moses refreshes their memory of their decades-long migration as directed by the Lord God. What was the Lord’s purpose? “To test you by affliction, and to find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments.” Could they be faithful to the covenant they had “cut” with God and ratified at Mt. Sinai? The test: “He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors ….” So much for the food.

Now the drink. “Do not forget the Lord your God … who brought forth water from the flinty rock ….” A legend had developed in Jewish interpretation of the story of Moses striking the rock in Exodus 17:6 and water flowing from it. In 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, St. Paul refers to this legend, that the rock from which the water flowed represented the Lord God following them on their journey with the miraculous water. The legend was based on Psalm 18:2, “The Lord is my Rock….” Thus, Paul calls this water a supernatural drink. He goes further, but with what justification we do not know, when he says, “The supernatural rock which followed them was Christ.”

At the end of our reading, Moses repeats the unknown characteristic of the food. Why the emphasis on unknown? The composers of this narrative, centuries after Moses, are playing with the popular explanation of the name Manna given to this unknown food. Here is the explanation from Exodus 16:15: “When the Israelites saw it,” (the manna on the ground in the morning), “they said to one another (in Hebrew) ‘Man hu?’” (What is this?) The second major theme noted in the paragraph above is the elevation of this basic food from natural nourishment to supernatural nourishment. Moses said, “He (the Lord) fed you with manna … to show you that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Moses is referring to the words of the covenant they had made with the Lord at Sinai, such as the Ten Commandments. Thus, the manna became a symbol of God’s revelation through Moses.

Palm 147 invites Jerusalem, which is also Zion, to praise the Lord God. Reasons for praise? The Lord strengthened the gates of the city, blessed the children and granted peace. The food theme of the first reading continues, “With the best of wheat he fills you.” Thanksgiving for the laws of the Covenant, “the bread that comes from the mouth of God,” continues from the first reading. The second reading was selected because St. Paul mentions the food and drink of the Eucharist. “The cup of blessing” refers to the third or fourth cup of wine taken during the Passover meal. Paul adopts the same name for the cup of wine that becomes the blood of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. He notes that, through participating in this cup, we share in the blood of Christ. The same for “the bread that we break.” It is a participation in the body of Christ. The fact that wine is formed from many grapes and bread from many grains leads Paul into a call for unity among the Corinthian Christians. As the bread is a unity of many grains, we who share in that bread become one body, “for we all partake of the one loaf.”

In the gospel reading from John, the author has come to the climactic moment of the Bread of Life Discourse. We have seen above in comments on the first reading how the authors of Deuteronomy elevated the meaning of the manna from merely natural food for the body to the supernatural food that is “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” John used that text from Deuteronomy to conclude that the Bread of Life is the revelation, the word of God, that Jesus brings from the Father. Secondly, he concluded that the Bread of Life is the revelation, the Word of God; that Jesus is from the Father. In today’s gospel, he concludes that the bread of life is the flesh and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. John attributes to Jesus this statement, “I AM the living bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Unlike the manna that sustained physical life for a time, this Bread gives immortal life. In what form does this “living bread” come? “And the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Those who heard this unusual statement naturally objected. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” That is the question to this day.

How do we answer? By relying on St. Paul and our four gospels. We heard what Paul proclaimed in our second reading today — that the cup of wine ingested at the “Breaking of the Bread,” (an early name for the Eucharistic action), is the blood of Christ. In 1 Cor 11:23-26, Paul gives us our oldest version of the Words of Institution of the Eucharist and their meaning. Blessing and breaking the bread of this ritual Jesus says, “This is my body which is for you.” Of the cup of wine he says, “This cup (of wine) is the New Covenant in my blood.” Mark, Matthew, and Luke also give us the Words of Institution and their meaning. John does not give us the Words of Institution, but repeatedly insists on their meaning — that the bread and wine blessed in this ancient ritual is truly the flesh and blood of Jesus. With a double oath, using an ancient name of God, (“Amen, Amen”), Jesus proclaims his flesh and blood true food and true drink plus a guarantee of resurrection from the dead and eternal life. As it is with other mysteries of our faith, such as the Holy Trinity, there is no experimental proof — only faith. That, too, is a gift of God that gives immortal life, as Jesus said within the Bread of Life Discourses: “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.”