[SHS Baccalaureate Mass, Martin Hall, 13 April 2018.]
Not two weeks ago Christian communities throughout the world lifted the Paschal Candle proclaiming Risen Jesus as the Light and Savior of the world. You graduate today in the glow of that Resurrection Light.
His Resurrection lifted Jesus from the dead who had lifted us all to himself as he was lifted up on the Cross. It lifted Jesus to the glory of his Father for having accomplished the Father’s will in our redemption.
His Resurrection also shed special light on all that Jesus had said and taught. Nothing he said was wasted. Nothing he did was meaningless. In John’s Gospel all is re-visited and re-appreciated “from the beginning” (Jn 1:1). In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (cf. Jn 1-16). We are invited to understand how all that Jesus taught and did was of one who “comes from above,” who “comes from heaven” who “speaks the words of God” from above (cf. Jn 3: 31-34) because he is “the Word of God” incarnate.
So too the way Jesus responds to the hunger of people in today’s Gospel. He is incarnated, one with us in the flesh. He feels the churning in people’s stomachs when they have not had enough to eat. The people who had come to listen to his spiritual message where physically hungry. He responded to not only to their spiritual hunger but to their physical hunger. “…Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (Jn 6:11). Most marveled at his beyond-the-ordinary ability. But those who understood this as a sign, as a disclosure “from above” already recognized that this was the action not just of a miracle worker but of the long-awaited Prophet (cf. Jn 6:33).
Our Gospel reading is only the introductory scene of John’s profound sixth chapter on Jesus as the Bread of Life. When the people pursue him because they are fascinated by his ability to multiply bread, he works to lead them to insight into the true meaning of the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He tries to lead them to insight into its sign, its message “from heaven”, its meaning “from above”: “Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:27). This food comes from the Father: “It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (Jn 6:33). Then Jesus discloses a profound truth of himself as Messiah, a truth that the Resurrection confirmed:
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus declares. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35). It is not some special delicacy nor some special beverage that will still our hunger and thirst, but Jesus himself. One has only to believe. He comes from above to bring us “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one many eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will life forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6:48-51).
As the ultimate satisfaction of our deepest hunger and our deepest thirst, Jesus offers himself as true nourishment; he offers communion with himself as life, the fullness of life, the fullness of resurrected life.
“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them….” (Jn 6:53-56).
For many of Jesus’ disciples however, this was too much. How could they eat this man’s flesh? How could they drink his blood? Not being brought to insight “from above,” they misunderstood him. “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (Jn 6:66). They turned away from Jesus.
But for those who were led to Jesus “from above”, to those who had been “lifted to himself as he was lifted up on the Cross” (cf. Jn 12:32), they knew he and only he had the “words of eternal life” (Jn 6:28). In this light, their memory of his giving them bread and fish by the Sea of Gallilee to still their hunger was only a prelude to the Last Supper where he took bread and gave it to them saying, “Take and eat, for this is my Body” (Mt. 26:26); then he took the cup of wine and gave it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). The Eucharist was inseparable from his Cross, where his flesh “given up” was sacrificed and his blood poured out, as it was inseparable from his Resurrection, where death is conquered, as it is inseparable from his outpouring of the Spirit” – the outpouring of his Love – “to guide us into all truth” (cf. Jn 16:12).
As you graduate today in the glow of resurrection light, in the Spirit he sends be aware of your deepest hunger, your deepest thirst. Allow Jesus to still that hunger. And quench that thirst. He approaches you and says: I am the Bread of Life. Accept me. Take me. Embrace me. Consume me. Do not be scandalized. Do not be scared. Do not walk away. “My flesh is true food; my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55). If you “eat my flesh and drink my blood” I will abide in you, I will live within you. Within you, I will be your Lord and your God (cf. Jn 20:28). And in your abiding in me, you too shall take up your cross daily (Lk 9:23), but you will be brought to “the fullness of life” (Jn 10:10) and you “will live forever” (Jn 6:48).