White bread, rye bread, wheat bread, pita bread, zucchini bread, and pumpernickel! Perhaps no food comes in as many varieties as bread, known as the staff of life. Because bread is so basic to our life, God was wise to nourish us with divine life in the form of bread, the Eucharist.
Jesus foretold this marvel when he claimed, “I am the bread of life….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” (John 6:48, 51). This was not just a figure of speech.
Jesus meant the words literally. At the Last Supper the night before he died, he held bread in his hands and said to his friends, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Ever since then Christians have been celebrating the breaking of the bread. We come together to share a meal and be fed with the bread and wine that is Jesus. The Eucharist is a gift of Jesus' love through which we remember his death and resurrection and share in them.
When Jesus called himself the bread of life, his listeners no doubt thought of Moses. Through Moses God sent down manna, bread from heaven that fed the chosen people for 40 years before they reached the promised land. Jesus explained, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:49-51).
God prepared us for the mystery of the Eucharist in several ways. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town whose name means “House of Bread.” His mother laid him in a manger, a feeding trough, a hint that someday he would be bread for the world.
All four Gospels tell the story of the miraculous feeding of crowds, which foreshadows what happens at Mass. Jesus fed thousands of people by having the disciples distribute five barley loaves and two fish. After everyone had enough to eat, there were still 12 baskets of leftovers (and in some accounts seven).
Even the time Jesus gave us the Eucharist was a clue to its meaning—the time of Passover. At this feast the Jewish people celebrate their salvation from death in Egypt by a meal that includes unleavened bread and wine.
When we partake of the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. We enter into communion with him and with one another. Unlike other food, which becomes part of us, Jesus in the sacred bread and wine makes us more like him. Therefore we, too, are to be bread for the world.
The living bread sustains us and prepares us for that day when we will come to the heavenly banquet. It is a pledge of future glory. It is the means by which Christ fulfills his promise, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
† Give us this day our daily bread! †