Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
Jesus said to them, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you 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. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
Jesus is living food for us, sent from the Father in heaven. Unlike ordinary food, which just sustains life, this food gives a life that is eternal.From the burning bush to the gentle breeze, God has made his presence known among us since the beginning of time. Being among us as food for body and spirit is a significant way of being present. Christ's eucharistic presence is in bread and wine, among the commonest elements of food and drink in his day. The Lord is present among us through everyday things.
Bread comes from a process that begins with seeds of wheat mixed with water. These are brought together as dough and, after several stages of development, they end up as a unity which we call bread. Wine begins as a cluster of grapes which, when they are processed, they end up as what we call wine. A group of people gather together for prayer, each of them unique. After a process which is the work of God's Spirit, they become a unity, which we call church, or the Body of Christ. In communion, the (community) Body of Christ is being nourished by the (sacramental) Body of Christ.
If someone invited you all to gather around me, as close as you can, because he was going to whisper to you, something else would take place that might surprise you. You'd notice that the closer you come to me the closer you'd be to each other. If you gathered closely around one person, you would be touching shoulders with each other. That is how community or the Body of Christ is formed. It is a question of bringing people closer to the Lord and, as a direct result of that, they end up being closer to each other.
Throughout history, God has spoken to his people in surprising ways. He spoke to Elijah through the gentle breeze, and he spoke to Moses in the burning bush. The natives of Bethlehem weren't too excited that a new baby had been born and, later on, Herod would mock Jesus as a fool, and the soldiers would jeer him as a king. After the resurrection, Mary Magdalene thought he was a gardener, Peter thought he was a ghost, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus thought he was a stranger passing through. That he should present himself in so simple a form as food and drink is just what we might expect from "The God of Surprises."
Sitting down together to a meal can generate a special feeling of togetherness. Each of us will have our own memories of table companionship or fellowship. Many of these will be happy experiences of celebration and laughter, of love received and shared. Some memories of table fellowship may be sad, times when we were more aware of one who was absent than of those who were present. Jesus shared table many times with his disciples. It is likely that, when sharing food with his disciples, he also shared with them his vision of God's kingdom . At table, the disciples imbibed something of Jesus' mind and heart and spirit. Of all the meals he shared with them, the meal that stayed in their memory more than any other was their last meal together, what came to be known as the last supper. Today's gospel gives us Mark's account, his word-picture, of that last supper.
This last meal Jesus shared with his disciples stood out in their memory, capturing the imagination of generations of disciples right up to ourselves. He did more than share his vision with the disciples; he gave them himself in a way he had never done before, and in a way that anticipated the death he would die for them and for all, on the following day. In giving himself in the form of the bread and wine of the meal, he was declaring himself to be their food and drink. In calling on them to take and eat, to take and drink, he was asking them to take their stand with him, to give themselves to him as he was giving himself to them.
It was because of that supper and of what went on there that we are here in this church today. Jesus intended his last supper to be a beginning rather than an end. It was the first Eucharist. Ever since that meal, the church has gathered regularly in his name, to do and say what he did and said at that last supper--taking bread and wine, blessing both, breaking the bread and giving both for disciples to eat and drink.
Jesus continues to give himself as food and drink to his followers. He also continues to put it up to his followers to take their stand with him, to take in all he stands for, living by his values, walking in his way, even if that means the cross. Whenever we come to Mass and receive the Eucharist, we are making a number of important statements. We are acknowledging Jesus as our bread of life, as the one who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers. We are also declaring that we will throw in our lot with him, as it were, that we will follow in his way and be faithful to him all our lives, in response to his faithfulness to us. In that sense, celebrating the Eucharist is not something we do lightly. Our familiarity with the Mass and the frequency with which we celebrate it can dull our senses to the full significance of what we are doing. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we find ourselves once more in that upper room with the first disciples, and the last supper with all it signified is present again to us.