Drinking the blood of Jesus.

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 forever.” 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? John 6:54–60

The key line is the very last one — “this teaching is difficult.” Most of us tend to associate this passage with the Holy Eucharist, and it fits beautifully with the Last Supper in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus makes a direct connection between the bread and his body:

Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:18–19)

But it is important for us to recognize that in John’s gospel, the Last Supper is not taking place, rather Jesus says these things after the feeding of the five-thousand. That miracle, which is the only miracle the four gospels share, is called a sign in the gospel of John, because throughout John’s gospel Jesus is trying to explain that the true miracles that are happening around him are actually signs of a much deeper miraculous event — the incarnation of the Word of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus says to them, “I am the Bread of Life,” as if to communicate with them that any hunger for real bread is secondary to our much deeper desire to know God and to be with God.

Using the language and theology of John’s Gospel, even the Holy Eucharist is simply a sign of something deeper — even if it is a miraculous event occuring every Sunday — the Holy Eucharist signifies that Jesus Christ dwells among us in our world, in our hearts and in our understanding.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is constantly challenging us and calling us to abandon our earthly desires, fears and passions and allow ourselves to desire to know God through Jesus. If we hear these stories and imagine a simple carpenter saying, “I am the bread of life,” or to the woman at the well saying, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” we can easily grow frustrated. We might think to ourselves, “How can it be that Jesus can remove hunger and thirst, when as a Christian I clearly need to eat and drink every day?”

Instead, we must always hear Jesus in John as the incarnate Word of God. We must imagine these often confusing conversations as men and women sitting down and chatting with the great Yahweh, the incarnate Word spoken through the prophets. God is not clear and simple, God is filled with mystery and wonder beyond our imagination. And our hunger and thirst to form a loving relationship with the Holy One is beyond all our deepest desires — deeper than our hunger for bread and our thirst for water.