We live in an age of food awareness. We’ve become accustomed to looking at the jar before buying it, to see if it contains artificial colorants, e-numbers, too much salt or an overdose of caffeine. And we’re not averse to diet supplements either, pouring dozens of pills down our throats each week to ensure that we’ve got all the right levels of vitamins and are not iron deficient.
Perhaps more than any other generation we have the medical knowledge about the relationship between what we put inside ourselves and our corresponding physical and mental health. And, of course, we want to live for ever!
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us that our spiritual health centres around the eucharist. Eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ is the Christian’s principal sustenance, what keeps us going in faith.
There are those who act as if the eucharist were simply a ritual that we perform, a sort of social, religious action. Others view it from afar. They see communion as the sacrament reserved for those who are already holy, for good people. So they go only rarely. Both of these viewpoints give the impression that we can do without the eucharist.
In fact, the eucharist is the indispensable diet for Christians. For communion is the climax of a wider action in which we gather as the Church to listen to God’s word informing our way of life, in which we bring all our needs and those of our world before God that they may be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and then we enjoy the most intimate union possible with God and each other by sharing in the food and drink of life.
If we eat nothing but chips and hamburgers, we become what we eat: we become fat. If we are people of the eucharist, we become what we eat: the Body of Christ, the Church. For the eucharist is the action by which the Church is brought into being. It moulds us into God’s people and as such can never be a mere optional extra.
As Jesus might have said, “Your fathers took diet supplements, yet they are dead. But whoever eats the living bread will live for ever.”