Friday April 30, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 9:1-20) Gospel (St. John 6:52-59)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord is really making several points. First of all, He makes it absolutely clear that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood if we want to have life; it is not something which is optional. And yet we have to ask ourselves the meaning and the purpose of all that. If we look at what we saw yesterday, He said, “I Myself am the bread come down from heaven, and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world.” Today He tells us, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” So He is making, again, a couple of points here.
Number one, He is showing that what happened with Moses (that is, with the providing of the manna in the desert) was merely a foreshadowing of what was going to occur. If God was going to be able to feed a million and a half people everyday out in the desert with the manna, it would certainly be no problem for Him to be able to feed billions of people throughout the world everyday for over 2,000 years, because nothing is impossible for God.
But beyond that, when He says, “The bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world,” it shows very clearly that He is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. In Psalm 110, we are told that the Messiah would have to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek. According to that way of thinking, Melchizedek offered bread and wine as a sacrifice to God. So if Jesus is going to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek, He Himself has to offer bread and wine, and that is exactly what He did. But the bread, He tells us, is His flesh for the life of the world; and the wine, of course, becomes His Most Precious Blood. Not only do we have the sacrifice of the New Covenant, the sacrifice of a new priesthood, but we also have the sacrifice in the order of Melchizedek; and the sacrifice is nothing less than the Body and Blood, as well as the soul and divinity, the very Person of our Blessed Lord. We see, then, that what Melchizedek offered all the way back when he offered sacrifice for Abraham in offering the bread and wine became a prefiguration of the reality of what was going to be. The manna in the desert was also a prefiguration. The sacrificial lamb that the Jewish people offered was a prefiguration. As they had to eat the flesh of the lamb and sprinkle its blood upon the doorposts and lintels, so too we were going to have to eat the flesh of the Lamb that would be offered and we would have to be saved by His blood.
All of these prefigurations of the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ. It does not mean that what was happening in the Old Testament was false – not by any means – but rather it pointed to something even greater. As wonderful and extraordinary as those things were that God had worked with the lamb and the manna and so on, they were not the end in themselves; but rather we are to learn from those prefigurations, from those symbols of the reality, and from there we are able to see clearly what Our Lord is talking about when He offers Himself for us. We not only have the fulfillment of what was shown in type and in symbol in the Old Testament, but we also have the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the new priesthood and the new covenant which is offered in the blood of Jesus.
So in this little passage, as the people doubt and wonder and question, there can be no question in our minds. The reality is right there in front of us, and it is there everyday for us to be able to receive into our own selves. It is our participation in the New Covenant. We have been brought into that covenant through baptism, and we renew that covenant every single time we receive Our Lord in Holy Communion. It is not something that we can look at as merely symbolic, it is not something that is just a type of something more to come, but rather it is the fulfillment of all of it. It is the fulfillment of the types and symbols. It is the sacrifice of the New Covenant. It is the sacrifice of the new Priest. And it is the defining point of who we are as followers and members of Jesus Christ.
When we look at what Our Lord is teaching in this Gospel from John 6, we have to understand that more than anything it is precisely this point regarding the Eucharist that defines who we are. If we are going to question, if we are going to doubt, then what we are really doing is questioning and doubting, not only Who Jesus is, but we are questioning and doubting the very reality of who we are as members of Jesus Christ. That is how important this is. It is not just ritualistically walking up and receiving Holy Communion, but it is a matter of opening our hearts, uniting ourselves at Mass with the sacrifice that is offered, and uniting ourselves in Holy Communion with the Sacrament that is given. It is both, because each one of us (being priest, prophet, and king) shares in that sacrifice of Christ. We are fed on the very Body and Blood of Our Lord in the appearance of bread and wine so that we can live out that covenant into which we have been incorporated, and in that way to be able to celebrate the very depths of the reality of who we are as Christian people.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life,” Our Lord tells us. The reason for that is because it is His life that He wants to communicate to us to share in the divine life and the very Person of Jesus Christ. The reality is already there. But if we reject the gift, if we reject the sacrifice and the priesthood that are required for this covenant to be fulfilled, then we have no part of Him. So we must enter deeply into this mystery of the Eucharist, of the sacrifice of the New Covenant, of the priesthood of the New Covenant, and place our hearts on the paten as it is offered to the Lord, and open our hearts to be able to receive our Blessed Lord every time that we receive Holy Communion and recognize the truth in the Blessed Sacrament of who we are as Christian people.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.