Three Sundays ago, we heard the beginning of what is known as the Bread of Life discourse from Jesus, the end of which we have just listened to. This discourse, a kind of teaching homily, was given by Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum, the day after he had fed the multitudes with nothing more than a few loaves of bread. A crowd had followed Jesus to the synagogue, keen to experience something more along the same lines. Instead, Jesus opens up to them a teaching of far deeper significance about what he’d done for them the day before. It was not the food of barley loaves that Jesus was principally offering; rather, it was the bread that was his own flesh, given for the life of the world.

I am the Bread of Life, said Jesus to the gathered crowd. This was his first punch in a punch-packing sermon. I am the living bread which comes down from Heaven. Pow. I come bringing the life of my Heavenly Father. Pow again. My flesh and blood are real food and real drink. The knock-out punch. And finally, anyone who eats this bread – my life – will live for ever.

Wow, wow, wow. Anyone who heard this sermon would have been reeling from its unflinching power. Indeed, many, as we heard, were overwhelmed by it all, and simply walked away, no longer wishing to be counted among Jesus’ disciples. Peter, however, representing that smaller group who stayed, had weathered the punches, and now knew who it was that he was truly following: “You have the words that offer everlasting life… you are God among us.”

Unlike my homilies, and any other homily you have heard, the words that Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum immediately brought about what he said. They were performative words, words that made present what was spoken. Indeed, real food was being given by Jesus in his homily; his own flesh and blood was being offered through his words. “I am the bread of life,” is what he said. Jesus spoke words that came alive for others.

These same words, now spoken by different voices, are, nonetheless, the words which bring us to life in Jesus. “This is my body… this is my blood. Do this in memory of me.” We will pray these words soon, as they are prayed in every Mass. Through the One who gave his life for us, so that his life might be given to us, we partake of the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Our words in Mass may not always sound powerful to our ears or be strongly felt; we may not always be so disposed as to hear their strength. Yet, they will always pack the punch of eternal life. We who participate in the Eucharist, whether we do so with the right intention or with clear attention, participate with Peter, perhaps uttering similar words to him, “To whom else shall we go, Lord? … I believe – I trust – in you.”

Today – most especially today – when you are unable to eat and drink of the Lord because of our current lockdown, know that the power of Christ’s words about himself are still being spoken for you. Today, allow Jesus to say them to you once more: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”