[Jesus said,] “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”What was interesting about the discussion in our group was how strongly most of us reacted to this passage. Even though most people present were church members, and were used to taking part in the Eucharist, the bodily imagery that is used by the author of the Gospel of John still retains some shock value: eat flesh, drink blood. I must admit, though, that I think the shock is well-placed by the author, and that I'm happy he (?) does not fall back onto any facile resolution of it at the end of the passage; rather, he simply leaves the impenetrability.
This is the only text in the Gospel of John that could be said to pertain directly to the ritual of the Eucharist. In other words, the author of John may have given these words to Jesus in the text while thinking about how the Eucharist was already being practiced in the early Christian community of which the author was a part. And it intrigues me that his understanding of the Eucharist is so fleshly and material. He seems to have had a very robust idea of the importance of the bodily aspect of communal rituals - and the bodily aspect of people's ideas of God.