The Eucharist and the Resurrection
By Br Bede Mullens | “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6.54). Food and drink are necessities of life. They are gifts of God, and good things, inasmuch as they give us life.
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6.54). Food and drink are necessities of life. They are gifts of God, and good things, inasmuch as they give us life.
So the Psalmist sings:
The eyes of all creatures look to you,
And you give them their food in due season;
You open wide your hand,
And satisfy the hunger of every living thing” (Ps. 144 (145).15-16).
The provision of food and drink is a sign of God’s providential care for all His creatures, and images of plenty are often associated with the promise of God’s Kingdom. The same psalm declares (v. 13), “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.”
From this thought, we can derive an ascetical principle such as is captured in the saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Food and drink are not really ends in themselves; they are only good because they sustain our life – biological, social and (if we are mindful to give thanks to God for them) spiritual. But we know full well that even this they do only in a measure: “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Is. 22.13). And if we did not know it, the history of Israel gives us the lesson explicit, according to the saying of our Lord: “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died” (Jn. 6.49). The manna was miraculous, but it was the kind of miracle that (if I may be forgiven the triteness) only goes to show just how miraculous every day really is: if we did not already know, and take thought that our food is given us from God – well, what was given to the Israelites in the desert shows it. “You satisfy the hunger of every living thing.” Yet even they that ate the manna were forgetful of God’s kindnesses.
The Resurrection is another kind of miracle altogether. Of this the Lord said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth – do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43.19). The Resurrection does not show forth more marvellously the ordinary impress of God’s creative seal upon the world; it is the first-fruits, the first sign of a new creation, new heavens and a new earth. This is how Christ’s resurrection from the dead differs from that of Lazarus, or of the widow’s son at Nain: they were restored to the same kind of life they already had, and they were bound to die again. But Christ’s new life is a total overcoming of death: “Christ risen from the dead, dies no more; death no longer lords it over Him” (Rom. 6.9). And so Christ’s new life is also an overcoming of the ordinary conditions of fleshly life: that much is evident from the Resurrection appearances.
“New wine, new skins,” we are told. Likewise new life, new food. If the food that comes up from the earth (and even the manna appeared up from the ground, like the dew), sustains an earthly life that is bound eventually to decline and to end, then the food that comes from heaven sustains a heavenly life that is immortal. And it sustains our life by giving us communion with Christ, who sits at the right hand of God – “the life he lives, He lives to God” (Rom. 6.10). So the Eucharist is not merely a gift from the hand of Him who bestows life and all good things: it is the Life-Giver’s very life bestowed upon us. It is not a mere means to an end, food so that we may live; this food is our life.
“You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ appears, your life, then you too shall appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3.3-4). We labour in the ground for our earthly food, where it is hid. (The Greeks said that Zeus concealed it there after Prometheus stole fire from heaven; Scripture tells us our toil is the wages of sin.) The heavenly life we already share in we do not yet see for what it is, but it is there, it is stored up for us. Eyes of faith discern it dimly, and we shall taste it the more sweetly if we labour to unearth Christ, in Scripture and the Sacraments and in a life of hidden holiness after His own pattern. “Beloved, we are children of God, and it has not yet appeared what we shall be. We know that when it does appear, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3.2).