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"And we have believed and have known, that you are the Christ, the Son of God."

John 6:69

Our Shepherd - Immanuel

I mentioned on the about page that I have stood before Jesus Himself and prayed for the readers of this website.  I said this knowing that people might think:

Well let me say, that it's none of the first three.  And if that makes you think it's a case of the last one, then why are you still reading this?

Oh I see, you're curious! smiley

OK, but it will take a while to explain.  Once you grasp it, the answer is actually very simple - and honest.  But that doesn't mean it's obvious how you get your head around it.  And in this particular case, it's going to take a bit of doing...

First off lets look at where the Bible says that Jesus is to be known as Immanuel.

Isiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:21-23 And she shall give birth to a son: and you must name him Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and give birth to a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel..

Immanuel is a Hebrew word meaning 'God with us'.  And in His Church, He really is with us today.  Now of course all Christians will recognise that He is with us 'in spirit':

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

But bear with me when I say that some Christians (and only some) know where to find Him in a really complete way.  One that you can reach out and actually touch, encountering all of Jesus: body, blood, soul, and because Jesus is God, divinity too!

Touching Jesus?  Really I'm not making it up.  And there's no artistic license being applied here.  I know it's an audacious claim that I'm making.  But it's not my claim, far from it!  I'm simply passing on something, that is clearly documented as attributed to Jesus.  The original claim can be pin-pointed to a short time before His execution.

Now if you aren't Christian, the rest of what I'm going to say may be a bit much.  Leave it here, or get ready for something beyond your normal experience.  Even if you are a Christian, I think I should ask you to prepare yourself for something that might be challenging and even uncomfortable.

Still here?  Fine, but do you trust the Bible?  I ask because I'm going to use it as the basis for the following explanation.  I believe the Bible is the written-inspired word of God.  What follows is no clever-theory, but the message of eternal life itself!  Inevitably, my personal presentation will colour how the subject is put across here, but the fundamental truth it describes, isn't based on my own interpretation of the Bible.  It's based on what has been handed down 'Christian to Christian', all the way from the Apostles.  This is the core of the Christian faith I trust in, and I'm going to share just a little bit of it with you now.

Have a look in chapter 6 of John's Gospel.  Further down I'll give a fuller explanation, but for now, let's just look at a couple of verses:

John 6:66 After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him.

That's right, all that effort to build up a following and here Jesus blew it.  So what upset His followers so much?  Let's back-track slightly to see:

John 6:53 Then Jesus said to them: Truly I say to you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.

You probably know that 'Son of man' was a name that Jesus used for himself.  But as for what He said, well: we'd call that political suicide nowadays!  Understandably His followers didn't like the idea of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking His blood.  Whether they thought Jesus was 'off His rocker', or just plain offensive, they'd had enough and left.  But Jesus wasn't playing with words just to see who was loyal.  After all, one of the very few who stayed with Jesus was Judas - the one who later betrayed Him.  If it was just a loyalty check, then it failed at quite a cost.

Sometimes Jesus spoke in parables, where the story related to some truth that had to be understood.  But whenever Jesus spoke in parables, everyone listening understood that He was speaking in relative terms - even if they didn't understand the parables themselves.  Yet here He was literal, that's why so many followers were offended.  It was a bit like back in Nazareth, when Jesus had been literal in the Synagogue there, saying that He was fulfilling the Scriptures, and many of His listeners had wanted to kill him.

Luke 4:29 And they rose up and thrust him out of the city; and they brought him to the brow of the hill, whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.

That time, Jesus got away from the mob, and built up followers elsewhere.  But being so direct is often challenging.  Hence the bad reaction, when He dropped His next bomb-shell:

John 6:48 I am the bread of life.

..And many of His followers left Him.  They must have thought he was bonkers - telling them to eat His flesh and drink His blood!  A particularly unpleasant type of bonkers at that.  Being suddenly confronted with this radical and crazy talk, their hopes for a Messiah must have seemed dashed.  But knowing that they'd allied themselves enthusiastically with what He'd said up to now, including various things they'd not been able to make sense of, what could they do now that He'd become openly offensive and spoke clearly crazy sounding things?  Instinctively they distanced themselves from Him.  Ashamed at their own gullibility, they must have felt so deflated, that rather than express anger, they just walked away in disgust.

Yet the question arises for us too: was Jesus being serious and literal when he said it?  The followers who left Him, certainly took His words in a plain enough way, and Jesus was prepared to see them walk away.  So it challenges us to ask ourselves: can we / do we, accept in faith, on trust of His words, that Jesus is the literal God given, 'Bread of Life' (whatever that means)?  Or will we also walk away?

If we are to encounter Him as that literal Bread of Life, we have to look outside the Bible, and find Him 'in the flesh', literally present in His Church.  After all, the Bible is the written-inspired word of God, not the living Word of God Himself.  Sure there's a close connection between the two.  And sure, the Holy Spirit can enliven our reading of the Bible, moving us to great things, even working miracles according to our response to what we read and facilitating our salvation.  But a written page, however holy, however extraordinary, however authoritative, is still a written page (see John 5:39).  Jesus on the other hand, is God Himself.

The Bible explains this in detail.  Let's take a closer look at the whole excerpt I've been referring to.  I've highlighted the passages already quoted above, and one other that I think is key:

John 6:48 I am the bread of life.

49 Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead.

50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.

52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

53 Then Jesus said to them: Truly I say to you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.

54 He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

55 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.

56 He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me, and I in him.

57 As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eats me, he shall also live by me.

58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers ate manna, and are dead. He that eats this bread, shall live for ever.

59 These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum.

60 Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?

61 But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples complained about this, said to them: Does this offend you?

62 If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?

63 It is the spirit that gives life: the flesh offers nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life.

64 But there are some of you that don't believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who it was, that would betray him.

65 And he said: Therefore I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father.

66 After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him.

67 Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?

68 And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

69 And we have believed and have known, that you are the Christ, the Son of God.

(my emphasis)

There is no doubt I think, that what Jesus said was shocking to His listeners.  The clear instruction that they were to eat Him drove many away.

But a closer reading shows other things as well.  Jesus also spoke of the life-giving spiritual nature of God, by means of which He can pass on everlasting life to us (see verse 54 and verse 57 - hint: if you follow these links, use the back button to return to the narrative here).  Jesus can pass on everlasting life to us, because He has the divine spirit that gives life (verse 63).  Were it not for that, there'd be no reason to eat His flesh, see verse 63 again.  "The flesh offers nothing" except for the fact that His flesh is united to The spirit.  Jesus is the Christ, which means the One anointed with the Holy Spirit.  But that aside, He is a divine person - life giving - true God and true man!  Eat His flesh and you eat His spirit!

We too are physical-spiritual beings, just not divine.  And so the matter of passing on that everlasting life to us, in our present lives, is more than a purely spiritual matter.  If we were dead it might be purely spiritual, but as we live something more is provided:  Verse 52 had already put the question of whether Jesus meant His followers should eat Him literally, firmly on the agenda.  And in verse 53 Jesus spelt it out for them:  there was clearly a literal, physical dimension.  Not surprisingly verse 60 and verse 66 showed that this was too much for many of those listening.  Many walked away.

Naturally, many of Jesus' listeners would have been shocked at His direct connection between Himself and things divine.  But that complaint had already been played out in verses 41-43, yet no-one was mentioned as leaving at that point.  It is the eating bit that completely pushes them away.  I don't know about you, but I'd have found it pretty repulsive talk if I'd been there at the time.

So how is it reading these words today?  For me it's different now, and the difference is all down to Peter's example in verse 68.  I doubt that Peter could yet understand what Jesus was talking about.  Surely Peter would have been almost as shocked as the others.  Perhaps for him the other words about divinity had made some more sense, I don't know.  But what is clear is that Peter trusted in Jesus and the other Apostles followed Peter's lead.  But what did that mean in practice?

Although Peter and the Apostles remained with Jesus, from what we know, they would have had absolutely no idea about how to 'eat Jesus'.  In fact, they wouldn't dare!  They'd seen enough to know Jesus had real POWER, and they knew their place.  I expect they found it easier not to think about it.  A bit like today, many people find it easier not to think about God, and what His existence means for how they live out their lives.

And so the Apostles would have buried the idea in the back of their minds.  Until that is, when Jesus brought them to the next part of this incredible unfolding, when there it was again:  They were all in an upstairs room, round the table with their Lord Jesus, facing one another.  Nowhere to hide!

Matthew 26:26-28 And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it: and gave it to his disciples, and said: Take it and eat. This is my body.

27 And taking the cup, he gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: Drink from this all of you.

28 For this is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Well they'd heard this before and they knew what He was referring to.  They had also witnessed Jesus work many miracles.  So as He handed it out to them, I expect there was total silence in the room.  At that moment, no-one would have dared to breathe a word.  Their minds would have worked overtime, perhaps in fear, as they anticipated what they were about to get in their hands?  Would it be bread or flesh?  Wine or blood?

Forgive me if I suspend the action for a moment.  I want to point out that Jesus hadn't just done something extraordinary.  The account in the Gospel of Luke shows He had also told the Apostles to continue to do this 'in memory of Him'

Luke 22:19 And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Now the Jews I'm told, had a special understanding of doing things 'in memory' when it came to the passover meal.  And this, as it happens, was the Jewish passover meal.  At the passover meal, those present 'remember' the original singular and ancient passover event, when God liberated His people from slavery in Egypt.  Significantly, they 'remember', that God's gift of freedom applies to them now, even though they personally weren't around when it happened.  That makes 'remembering' much more than just a sentimental recollection.  The ancient blessing is relevant here and now...

Passover Guide (link leaves this site)

"Passover is more than just a historical event.." "..Every Jew is commanded to remember that WE were slaves in Egypt and God Rescued ME from slavery"

So when Jesus said: "do this in memory of me", the expression will have resounded in His followers' minds and hearts.  Even the command "do this", should have caught their attention.  The Apostles could have easily recalled, that this same Jesus had sent them out to work healing miracles in His name.  How they'd been amazed, when on His authority, they had been able to heal others.  Perhaps they remembered this at the table.  Or perhaps they remembered it later.  Either way they did as He'd commanded, and repeated His actions and words after He'd ascended to heaven.:

Acts 2:42 And they persevered in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.

2:46 And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house..

Gradually, the time came to passing on the practice to more followers and to those who took their places down the years.  It continues to this day.  In this way Jesus remains the 'Bread of Life' for us.  That's why I spoke of Immanuel - God with us - today.  It's also why I said that we need to look outside the Bible, to His Church, if we are to find the real presence of Jesus - in the 'breaking of the bread'.

But I'm forgetting, I left you in suspense a few paragraphs back.  What exactly did the Apostles get in their hands?  Fortunately for the Apostles, and for us today, God is considerate to our sensitivities.  For the purpose of being our 'bread of life' (Matthew 26:26-28), He comes to us under the guise of palatable bread and wine.  This not only spares us having to do something abhorrent and cannibalistic.  There's a fair bit of logic to it too.  You see it preserves our freedom, by not overwhelming us with the full sense of His presence.  It leaves room for our free exercise of faith.  God doesn't make you believe it's not just bread and wine!  He respects your freedom even at the point of critical contact!

Yet Jesus - The Living God - is truly present in what we call the Eucharist (a word with a Greek origin, meaning 'thanks-giving').  I have stood before His amazing presence and worshipped Him.  And God willing, I'll do it again, and again and again.  This amazing presence is doubly amazing.  Once because He is here, so close!  And once again amazing, because His body and blood, are to the ordinary senses, purely bread and wine!?  Now I know this last bit is a very odd thing to say.  In fact it's really odd!  So let's take it one little step at a time.  I hope I've shown above, that strange though it is, we do have Jesus' word on this.

So if we trust Jesus to tell us the truth, how can this strange thing be?  Man and God truly present under the guise of bread and wine?  How can it be?  Jesus wouldn't do that.  Would He?  It seems so silly!

For many people this is a real stumbling block.  My answer, and that of the Church that Jesus founded, is to start by simply admitting:

Now you'd be forgiven for thinking that I've given up on science at this point.  I haven't.  Prepare yourself for yet another surprising claim.  Taken together, these two aspects not only explain about Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist, they also show us, nothing less than, the way to properly understand the order of nature itself!  Bear with me, you've come this far after all..

I don't have to explain why or how it is confounding to science.  Science knows little if anything about our existence as human material-spiritual creatures.  Science, in isolation of any knowledge of the spiritual dimension of life, will assert that God and these particular followers of His, simply got it wrong.

For example, say you were to carry out a microscopic examination of the Eucharist - the body and blood of Jesus.  Normally, this wouldn't reveal anything other than bread and wine.  I say normally, because there are miraculous exceptions to this rule, such as that at Lanciano.  But normally, science will see only bread and wine.  And this is because science is not the best tool for detecting our transcendent God.

Oh yes, God has left many marks upon the world.  Not the least of which is the human race: people are created in His image after all!  And science can pick up on and examine those marks to some degree.  But being the 'transcendent God' means that the rules of nature are subordinate to Him, and not the other way around.

God, if He wanted, could use science just like men and women do, to study the world He created.  For example, Jesus knew how to interpret the weather and the seasons.  But science struggles to study its creator who transcends its limited scope of application.  Yet that limitation is something we can be thankful for: that God, who created the natural world, chooses to remain veiled for now.  After all, if we want eternal life, we are supposed to eat His body!  For my part, I prefer the 'physically passive bread and wine-looking version'.

I said it's scientifically confounding, and surely we can all agree that even taken simply as an idea, the Eucharist transcends the scope of science.  Surely only die-hard atheist-materialists would argue that the creator should Himself be subject to scientific limitations.

But what of the second aspect in the bullets above?  The 'simple mystery'?  Fortunately, it seems Jesus knew we'd find it hard to grasp, so he gave us some advice.  Have a look at the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 18:3..Truly, I say to you, If you do not have a change of heart and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

In saying we have to become like little children, Jesus isn't saying we should abandon reason.  Rather he is emphasising how readily we need to trust his lead.  Supposing just for a moment, that we do trust Him on this.  Remember John 6:66 above, where it was mentioned that many of His followers fell away over this point.  So if we likewise follow Peter and stick with Jesus - accept that Jesus is God, that God knows it all, and that we simply just don't understand - yet; where does that position of trust take us?  And where does it take our power of reason to?

First of all, if we trust in Jesus as Lord, we will see that the reality we perceive with our senses is not the last word there is on reality.  There is in fact a greater context to it all.

I liken this to the modern concept of computer virtual reality.  In that concept we live in the real world, but experience aspects of living in a virtual world where we - the creators, or programmers - make the rules - and as consumers or game players, take actions and make choices.  Once the virtual activity, say a game is over, our attention leaves the narrow realm of the game, and returns to true reality.  So there is true reality, and a subordinate virtual reality into which we can reach.

What God has revealed to us is that He super-exists.  This is the real order of nature that I was talking about.  He makes the rules for our subordinate reality (the parallel of virtual reality in my example).  It is in this subordinate reality that we are conceived, born, live our daily lives, exercise our freedom, and into which He has reached.  But in Him we have our true context and true reality.  One day our life in the subordinate world will be over, and then we may see Him face to face.  We will then have passed from real existence to real super-existence.

But for now, He remains veiled for us.

Perhaps now it's time to drop the explanations and simply quote a wise preacher (I'm quoting from memory here so it might not be word perfect, but it's the idea that counts):

Fr Corapi, presumably paraphrasing St Ambrose (ccc 1375) Don't question God, who made everything out of nothing, about how He can turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus, living and truly present, just accept that He can!

I quoted that not so that we stop thinking in analytical terms, but simply so that we pause long enough to enjoy the good news: see what Jesus said:

John 14:18 I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you

Did you think He would leave us alone?

You see with God it is all about love.  We are not orphans, He chose to become one of us, and He chooses to stay close to us even now.  Science is useful but the right tool to detect God is using your 'heart'.  God designed our love-capacity so that we might know Him, and our trust-capacity so that we might grow in that love.

picture of Eucharistic Host and chalice in wrought-brass gate

I really believe that in the Eucharist, Jesus really is with us in the fullest way He can be.  And if God wants to be fully with us, then the only barrier is ourselves.  Do we trust in Him enough to allow the fullness of what He wills for us, into our lives?  Are we ready to be nourished by the 'Bread of Life' that God in His infinite goodness provides for us?

As you might guess, there is a little more detail to add.  In this case it is important for me to explain that the real presence of Jesus does not come about with any bread and wine someone wishes it to happen to, or even that they pray for.  Now the universal church that Jesus founded - the Holy Catholic Church teaches with the authority of the Holy Spirit, that this only happens to that bread and wine, which has been validly consecrated by those Apostles who Jesus authorised to do this, and by those that they have authorised in turn.  After all, it is Jesus and not the follower that can work such a 'miracle', so it only happens on His say-so.

I believe that His say-so for this purpose, is only handed on authoritatively in the Catholic Church, which preserves the continuity that started with Jesus entrusting the practice to the first Apostles, not simply any disciples, but the Apostles.  He had a reason for the way He did it.  Like everything He did, it was born out of Wisdom and out of Love.  You of course will reach your own conclusions.  There is evidence if you want to look for it, but for now here's just a taster of what historical records and the Church's teaching say:

Catechism of the Catholic Church (ccc) paragraph No 1345 ..St Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius.. around the year 155, explaining what Christians did.. 'those whom we call deacons give to those present the Eucharists bread..

ccc 1343 ..From that time on down to our own.. ..the Eucharist has been continued.. ..with the same fundamental structure

ccc 1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church 'have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders'..

But if you're a non Catholic Christian (catholic means universal), don't think you aren't valued!  I believe that Jesus delights in all Christians who trust in Him and are willing to co-operate with Him!  This Catholic-Eucharistic exclusivity of which I speak (if that's not a mis-nomer), can be distinguished from the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are in some respects available more widely, as God wills and grants.  Aside from the Eucharist, Jesus is found in His spiritual presence (Matthew 18:20), in any sincere Christian community, not just Catholic.  Sadly, being endowed with such a great and life-giving gift (the Eucharist) does not ensure that all Catholics love Jesus as much as some other Christians do!  Clearly the Holy Spirit is blessing numerous Christian communities in different ways.  I suspect this is partly so that all will see they need one another to form the full universal body of Christ, that is the Church He prayed for (John 17:11 & 17:22).

I'm going to finish this page now, remembering Peter's words:

John 6:68 And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

69 And we have believed and have known, that you are the Christ, the Son of God.

 

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