Humanity is in ‘communion’ with the body and blood of Christ – one loaf which unites the many into a single body.
In Deuteronomy, Moses goes straight to the meaning of dialogue. Humanity’s experience of work and life reveals an understanding of the God within it all – as well as the God afar – transcendent, unknowable. So, liberation hard won brings an understanding that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ Memory of deliverance by the divine opens the way to a greater liberation. And that liberation brings life as surely as bread and food do. ‘Do not forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ The liberation once begun leaves its indelible mark. It is impossible for the Israelites to forget that they are people of the liberation – and it delights and hounds them down the years.
Suddenly we arrive at the fulfilment (in Paul’s conviction) of that food which comes from the mouth of God. Paul in lightening inspiration can say that God’s body (in Christ’s death – in body broken and blood shed) can now be food to recreate humanity as one unity. Humanity is in ‘communion’ with the blood and body of Christ – one loaf which unites the many into a single body. This is the end and the beginning of a new dialogue of the deepest and most ultimate intimacy, to be literally chewed on! There can be no more vivid illustration of the way God is to be defined as that which flows in all matter, all relationship – as food to be eaten.
John makes poetry of the Old Testament story of how God feeds his people and how that feeding is now transformed into a man who can say: ‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.’ If God fed his people with food but also with everything which came from his mouth (the Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom), towards understanding – now comes the Word from God’s mouth which can make death the loving means to feed humanity into resurrection and eternal life. We must stand as dismayed as the Jews who heard this for the first time. We must do that if we are to step into humanity transformed. It is not possible to take this teaching for granted or as something normal. It is not. It is asking humanity to take a big leap forwards.
God teaches humanity (provides nourishment and life) through all human experience (including moments of liberation but also of degradation). But now comes the step-change. God overcomes the immeasurable distance between himself and humanity (bridged previously by the word of the law and the prophets) by ‘mouthing’ speaking a Word incarnate. But more than that – this Word seeking the ultimate identification of God and humanity – dies body and blood into bread and wine and finds a way for the inner feeding and transformation of humanity. In saying that this bread and wine are His Body and Blood, Jesus is also saying that the whole of creation is soaked with the Divine. Pan-en-theism, not pantheism. Now humanity lives forever – since the food provided by God is Himself. ‘As I.. myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.’
Christianity is not so much unbelievable in what it believes, as totally mad! Or totally and joyfully, it has found the truth about everything! Those who believe all this – must never stop giving thanks that they have a gift beyond imagining. They must also never stop and cannot ever stop joyfully proclaiming that the life they enjoy is meant for all. Hence the Church as permanent mission, its members always “missionary disciples.” This is the reign of God which preoccupied Jesus, and which is the kernel of the purpose of anybody gathered in the name of Jesus, the Universal Christ. With this perspective all else has a chance of being right. Get this wrong and the ills of Christianity down the years since Jesus are, hopefully tearfully, all too explainable.
No-one, no thing, is excluded from the dialogue. This immensity is the backdrop to the ‘singularity’ of the man Jesus – as if in a reverse of the Big Bang, all that comes from the mouth of God is concentrated into a man who dies and thereby becomes available to transform humanity as food transforms and is transformed. God and humanity co-mingle. If God wanted to show how much He wants to be with us, on our side, our most intimate lover – what closer way could God choose than to become part of us as food? God becomes us in order that we become God. No wonder the gospel writers and the disciples want to share the source of their eternal joy with everyone else. Everyone else is meant to have this understanding, to share this food.