One of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible is John 6, where, a day after feeding five thousand people at Tiberias, Jesus addresses them about himself as the “Bread of Life.” He compares himself to the manna: the bread that God sent to the Jews in the wilderness, and yet more than that, a bread that brings eternal life — his own body, his own flesh. “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It must have been a strange idea to the Jews who were listening, and even to us who read it today, but He was talking about His coming sacrifice: when our Lord’s own body and blood would be violently rent for our sins. Christ made it clear with the “Bread of Life” dicsourse how inseparable our eternal salvation is from His sacrifice of flesh and blood on the Cross. Eternal life comes, he told them, only upon “eating of the bread” that came down from Heaven: Himself, his flesh and blood. By partaking of His sacrifice are we saved.
People strove and murmured while Christ said these things at Capernaum, but they continued to listen. But then, He said something they really, really didn’t want to hear: “That no man can come unto me, except that it were given him of my Father.” It was when He said that, that people started leaving. (Jn 6:66)
Who wanted to be told that, anyway? That this one Man, by way of His flesh and blood, was the only way to Heaven, and that no one could come to that Way on one’s own, but only by the enabling of the Spirit and the gift of the Father? Our natural way is to resist a teaching like that, to claim that we are masters of our own destiny, with power to change the course of our own lives. Yet how untrue that is. What power do we have to change that selfish, concupiscent, uninspired way we have lived since we were first pulled from the womb? That power is God’s and God’s alone.
Only by virtue of His death on the cross, by His selfless atonement for our own evil, that giving of his own body and blood, are we saved to eternal life. And just as much as bread and water are food and drink to our bodies, so is the sacrifice of Christ’s human flesh and his spilled lifeblood, eternal food and drink to our souls.
(Admittedly, with my Roman Catholic background, it’s easy to see how these passages can also be directly used as a scriptural justification for transubstantiation and saving grace in the Eucharist; and the Protestant stand that the whole “body and blood” bit is mere symbolism stands somewhat weakly — in my eyes, anyway — before the Roman argument for a literal sacramentalism. It’s an interesting issue deserving much thought, and I will address that some other time.)