AUGUST 26, 2012 - 21ST SUNDAY

JOHN 6: 20-60-69

The reading we have just heard bears appreciably more clarity and impact if we actually hear the words of Jesus to which the first sentence of our text refers. As it stands the opening sentence reads as follows: "Many of his disciples who were listening said: THIS IS A HARD SAYING, WHO CAN ACCEPT IT?"  What was the saying that these men found so hard to agree with that they renounced their discipleship, and in doing so made the biggest mistake of their lives?  If we hear them as pronounced by our Lord we can more readily grasp how starkly demanding on trust they were when heard the first time.  In fact, they continue to be a stumbling block for many today.  A recent poll in this country found that a high percent of persons who identify themselves as Catholic do not accept our Lord's words in their literal and obvious sense.  The "hard saying" to which these disciples objected is stated by John a few verses earlier, where we read: "The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. My flesh truly is food and my blood truly is drink."  Our Lord went on to make statements following these words that are hardly less demanding on our trust in his person.  At the same time, they provide an insight that supports his right to make such a seemingly outrageous challenge to the mind.  "He who eats this bread will live forever."  This statement is then followed by the text of today's Gospel that we heard a few minutes ago.

If there remained any hesitation about the literal meaning that the Lord gave to his words all basis for such doubt is removed by the forceful attitude he displayed as he addressed those followers who remained at his side.  Rather than soften the so called "hard words" that the others could not assent to, he simply reaffirms their meaning and makes it evident that accepting their literal truth is a condition for remaining in his company.  "Do you also want to depart?" he asks the twelve.  In other word, he is implicitly telling them that belief in the Eucharist as truly his body and blood is not negotiable; rather it is a condition for remaining in his company as a disciple.

An obvious if implicit supposition in believing the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of the living, risen Christ is that OUR Lord possessed a unique power over the substance of material reality.  Such a claim is bolstered in the broader text I have referred to.  After claiming that his flesh is truly food Jesus affirms that "The living Father sent me, and I live for the Father. . . . This is the bread come down from heaven."  Only God has the power to transmute the very substance of matter.  In establishing the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus exercises this divine, transcendent power and in doing so imparts along with the Eucharist, eternal life.

We do well to recall these fundamental truths here as we ourselves carry on the ministry that Jesus speaks of in his discussion concerning this Sacrament.  In adhering to this mysterious reality so carefully cherished by the Catholic Church through the centuries, we maintain access to that world that is eternal.  Hidden from our physical senses, the risen body and blood of our Savior remain present to us physically, under the appearances of bread and wine.  We gain through it entrance into the invisible, real world where the laws of time and space are no longer operative.  By contact with the risen Body of Christ in the Eucharist we are being transformed in our very nature so that, as Saint Paul put it, we become a New Person. All that is not made new in the Risen Christ is involved in a process that ends in death, for this world and its fashion is passing away. But the living Word of God is eternal.  "Your word, o Lord, is spirit and life. You have the words of everlasting life."  It is in this life-giving word that we offer our praise and thanksgiving this morning to the Father of lights in the form of this Eucharistic sacrifice.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger