48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51 Common English Bible)
Jesus says “I am the bread of life.” These words are spoken in response to those seeking seeking free bread (after he feeds the 5000 plus). Free bread had always been used by the powers to be to keep the masses quiet or to buy their support. The crowd seems to be saying to Jesus – you give us bread and will give you our allegiance.
Jesus will have none of it. He’s not asking for their allegiance in a bid for political power, but is inviting them into a spiritual relationship. But of course it’s more than simply that. As with the story of the woman at the well (also in John), Jesus offers himself as the means of achieving union with God – eternal life. The way this conversation plays out gives us an Eucharistic picture, and historically this text has been used as a means of defining real presence in the Eucharist. Since John doesn’t have an Institution narrative, many believe that this text provides John’s definition of the Eucharist.
As developed by later interpreters, as we partake of the Eucharist, we take into ourselves Jesus’ real body and blood. By doing so we receive the means of eternal life. In participating in this sacrament we essentially achieve union with God.
I realize that many in the Progressive Christian community have problems with Eucharistic language, especially when it has sacrificial tones. Indeed, many have issues with speaking of eternal life, believing that such talk takes away from the important work to be done on earth. But, having hope for eternity need not take away from commitment to the transformation of this world, but it does provide a broader picture of reality.
I share the concern about some of the language as well, especially when it gets too graphic, but I wonder – is the Lord’s Table simply a communal meal? Or does participation in this meal have even deeper spiritual impact? That is, by participating in this meal, might we, by faith experience oneness with Jesus, and thus with God, as we gather at the table?