By Canon Gerry Conroy
Although we seem to be moving out of this pandemic, many still feel the uncertainty of our situation. There is enough news around to let us know that the whole situation is not yet completely behind us. Uncertainty is not something we thrive on; it makes life difficult for us, especially if we are of a nature that needs certainty and stability to thrive and most of us are. Our whole world is in a time of change just now, so the uncertainty that we feel is not limited to events surrounding Covid-19; that just seems to compound things. When the solidity that once seemed reliable is no more; the things we thought would always be around, the things we thought we could always rely on no longer offer the same shelter from the changes, we feel insecure. And that feeling is contagious, we start to doubt everything; people are unwilling to take as Gospel even what they previously put their trust in.
I hear a bit of that also in the Gospel, in the exchange between Christ and the crowd. They are uncertain about Jesus and whether or not they can trust what he says. On the face of it, he is someone they know, a local boy and yet now he is making extraordinary claims about himself. They too have to face this problem of uncertainty and they are complaining about it, so he tells them to stop it. His criticism of them goes even further, comparing their murmuring about him to the murmuring of the Israelites against Moses during their time in the desert. Those Israelites in the desert should have known better because they had seen the wonders that God worked through Moses, and Christ’s contemporaries should have known better because all the prophets pointed to him.
But Jesus is not content with saying that; he is saying that he is greater than Moses and what he has to give is greater than anything Moses had to give. The Manna Moses gave kept them alive in the desert, but death eventually came for them; the bread that Jesus has to offer gives eternal life. This bread he has to give is himself; it is in our union with him achieved in the Holy Eucharist that we are given eternal life. The union with Christ begun in the Sacrament of Baptism is completed when we receive the Eucharist. Christ’s words telling us that the bread he has to give is his flesh for the life for the world are found again in the Last Supper, when he gave to his disciples the bread and told them it was his body and gave them the chalice and told them it was his blood.
We find ourselves in a similar situation to the Hebrews in the desert and the Jews who were listening to Christ’s words: either to believe what we are told or to let the doubt that is all around us creep into our bones also and murmur about it. But if we decide not to believe, we also risk eternal life, because we know for certain that death is the end for our human life. Eternal life is not to be found lying around on every street corner; it comes to us only because of our union with Christ and our union with Christ depends on the Eucharist truly being the flesh and blood of Christ. For the Church the Eucharist has always been at the centre of our salvation. That is the tradition it has faithfully handed down to us, and it is a tradition that comes from Christ himself.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton