Even a small serving of the Gospel of John is rich, complex food; there are several ingredients just in these few lines—much to savor, lots to chew on. I’d like to draw out one morsel: where Jesus says he’s the living bread and whoever eats this bread will live forever.
There’s a lot about believing in the Gospel of John: believing that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. If we believe, we have eternal life. And there’s a lot about eating in the Gospel of John. Eating the flesh, drinking the blood—it gets quite graphic in the next few verses.
Believing is something that happens in our consciousness, which is an unseen and famously unstable part of our being—what goes on in our heads can vary wildly from day to day, from person to person. Eating, on the other hand, is physical, visceral—it involves saliva and teeth and stomach acids and all kinds of other earthy goings on. We can see what we eat and drink; what we take into our body takes up space and has weight.
What we think we believe is—well, where is it? What is it? Where did it go? What we think we believe is harder to pin down than what we eat, which is so “really there”, taking up space and having weight. The Eucharist, the Christian sacred meal, is a great equalizer. There’s a radical egalitarianism in the distribution of bread and wine. Especially if we realize that every piece of bread and sip of wine is precisely the same one: there is one bread, and that is Christ. We receive all of Christ in communion, not just a piece of him. If we break the loaf into a thousand pieces, there’s still only one Christ—and each of us receives all of him.
There is an egalitarianism in this. The wise, the beautiful, the strong, the rich: these receive the same as the unwise, the plain, the weak, the poor. The theological gymnastics of the educated count for nothing in this distribution. Neither does fancy philosophical footwork. Nor does excellence in Christian virtues. These are not impediments either, of course. All receive the same bread of life and cup of salvation. And what the body does with it is pretty much the same from one person to another.
This is a radical egalitarianism. It is also “catholic” in the original sense of the word, which means “universal”. There is an expansive catholicity in the Eucharist that is meant to scoop up everybody, the righteous with the unrighteous, the rich with the poor, the wise with the unwise, the beautiful with the plain, the fast with the slow.
Perhaps this is why Christ insists on the doing of it. Thinking about it is well and good. But he insists on the doing. He insists on leveling the playing field. So we shall eat and we shall drink.
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