In the readings today we are reminded of, and invited to rejoice, at the great Eucharistic Feast of the Lord Jesus. Indeed, the Lord Jesus at the great cost of the loss of many disciples, teaches us that he himself is the food of this great feast: the Bread is in fact his Body, broken and offered, the Wine is in fact his Blood in the New Covenant shed for many unto the remission of sin. And the Church, in the voice of “Lady Wisdom” from Proverbs, calls all to come to the holy feast, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and the Church, his beautiful Bride. And in that feast we are not only to recognize the Lord and receive, we are to rejoice with song, as the second reading joyfully sets forth.
Yes, you might say we have here Wine, a Woman and Song: the Wine of Christ’s sacrificed body and blood, the Woman who is his beloved Bride the Church saying “Come to the feast!” And the song of our praise in every Holy Eucharist. Lets look at each dimension in today’s readings.
I. WINE – We are, in the Gospel continuing with the great treatise on the Eucharist by Jesus in John 6. Many of the Jewish listeners who hear him the synagogue at Capernaum are grumbling and murmuring in protest at his insistence that they eat his flesh and drink his blood. But Jesus does not back down for a minute. In fact, he “doubles down” and quite graphically teaches a very real (as distinct from symbolic) call for eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He does this in four stages. He begins by insisting on the:
A. REALITY of the Eucharist – He says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” Notice therefore, the bread IS HIS FLESH. The bread is not simply a symbol of his flesh, of his body, or of his life and teachings. It is not simply a way of remembering him when he is gone. No, it IS his flesh. Other scriptures also insist on the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and the truth that it is his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity:
a. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:23-25)
b.The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a communion in the body of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16)
c. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29)
d. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight..Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:31, 35)
Thus the Lord teaches them first of the reality of the Eucharist, of the food, the wine that he offers. It is in fact his Body and Blood.
B. REACTION - The Lord’s teaching provokes a reaction: The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ”How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Here was one of the most difficult moments of Jesus’ public ministry. The scene is the synagogue at Capernaum. The town where Jesus worked some of his greatest miracles. You’d think he’d have a real audience here! But as it turns out: You might say he had no “Amen corner,” and the old spiritual was demonstrated that says, Way down yonder by myself and I couldn’t hear nobody pray. As we shall see next week, their reaction and revulsion is so severe that many will leave him and no longer walk in his company. It is to be wondered if Jesus did not have this moment in mind when he said of Capernaum: And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Mat 11:23-24)
C. REINFORCEMENT – But Jesus does not back down. Their rejection leads to his reinforcement of his teaching: Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
Yes, Jesus gets emphatic and uses the intensifier “Amen, Amen I say to you” which is the Jewish equivalent of “Let me be perfectly clear…” And he also switches his vocabulary from the polite word for “eat” (φαγεῖν (phagein) in Greek) to τρώγων (trogon) which more graphically and impolitely speaks of gnawing on, or crunching or chewing his flesh.
Jesus wants to be very clear. They understood him to speak literally, not metaphorically or symbolically. He assures them he expect to be understood literally. Why is he so emphatic? He wants to save us and links the eating of his Body and Blood to eternal life: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. In order to be raised up and to make the journey to eternal life we must be sustained and strengthened for the journey by eating and drinking his blood.
It is just like the manna in the wilderness that sustained them for forty years in the desert as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Had they not eaten, they would have died in the desert. So it is for us in the desert of this world. Without our Manna, our Bread from heaven, without the Body and Blood of the Lord to sustain us, we will not make it to the Promised Land of heaven.
Jesus insists: EAT! Else the journey will be too long for you! For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
D. REWARD of the Eucharist – Here the words of Jesus speak plainly of the reward in receiving the Eucharist: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.“
And therefore, we see the most essential teaching of today’s readings: the Bread is Christ’s Body and the Wine is his blood. How can any of us doubt what Jesus teaches us here about his true presence? St Thomas Aquinas says simply of this teaching of Jesus: Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius, nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius (I believe whatever the Son of God says, nothing is more true than this word of truth).
And thus we have the “Wine” of this day, the wine of Truth, the Wine that is his Blood, the bread that is in fact his Body. And this leads us to the “Woman” of today’s feast, the Church.
II. A WOMAN - The First reading describes the Woman this way: Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has sent out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: “Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, she says, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.”
The “Woman” here is “Lady Wisdom” an allegory for the Church, Christ’s Bride and our Mother. Notice two things that the Church as Mother does:
1. She FEEDS – the text describes here as having set up her seven columns (the Sacraments) and that she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She calls out: Come, eat of my food. And in the great banquet of the Eucharist She feeds us with the Word and Eucharist. To every Catholic our Mother, the Church calls every Sunday, and she says “Eat! Partake of what my Spouse offers, His Word, and his Word become flesh, his very Body and Blood. Come Eat!”
2. She FORMS - For the Church, like any mother says, “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” She calls us not only to be informed by the Word of God but to be transformed!
Yes, there is a Woman in today’s feast, Christ’s holy Bride and our Mother.
III. SONG – and finally there is a song as described in the Epistle today: Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Yes, we are called to the feast to partake the WINE of Christ’s Body and Blood, by the WOMAN, our Mother the Church, and she calls us to SONG, to rejoicing, to celebration.
And as the text from the Epistle says, we ought to sing in thanksgiving, the very meaning of the word “Eucharist.” Scripture says that we were made to praise the Lord: we…have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory (Eph 1:12). It also says, The joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh 8:9).
Yes, we are called to this feast to tell our story and recount the victory of the Cross. Every Sunday we rejoice that, whatever our trials, God can and does make a way, and that we already have the Victory in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So today, Wine, a Woman, and Song. The wine, the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood, the Woman, his Bride and our Mother the Church, the Song, our very rejoicing and the feast of Victory for our King, Jesus.
Somehow this post reminds me of an old Monteverdi Motet entitled “Jubilet Tota Civitas” (from Selva Morale) wherein Holy Mother Church Bids the whole city to rejoice. Here is a translation, then the motet:
Jubilet tota civitas. Psallat nunc organis Mater Ecclesia Deo aeterno, quae Salvatori nostro gloriae melos laetabunda canat. Let the whole city rejoice. Mother Church now sings with instruments to the eternal God, she who to our Savior now joyfully sings a song of glory.
Quae occasio cor tuum, dilectissima Virgo, gaudio replet tanta hilaris et laeta? Nuntia mihi! What glad and happy occasion, most beloved Virgin, fills your heart with such joy? Tell me!
Festum est hodie Sancti gloriosi qui coram Deo et hominibus operatus est. Today is the feast of a glorious Saint who worked in the sight of God and of men.
Quis est iste Sanctus qui pro lege Dei tam illustri vita et insignis operationibus usque ad mortem operatus est. Who is this Saint who, for the law of God, with such a distinguished life and outstanding works labored until death?
Est Sanctus Cyprianus. It is Saint Cyprian.
O Sancte benedicte! O holy and blessed one!
Dignus est certe ut in ejus laudibus Semper versentur fidelium linguae. Jubilet ergo. Jubilet ergo tota civitas. Alleluia. He is assuredly worthy that in his praises the tongues of the faithful will always be exercised. Rejoice therefore! Let the whole city rejoice. Alleluia.
Enjoy this Soprano solo, so light and joyful.