Artisan breads have become very popular. Some small bakeshops specialize in them and only sell these special loaves. Supermarkets may have a dedicated section in the bread aisle for artisan bread. Artisan bread may be basic consisting of only flour, water, salt, and yeast; or it may be flavored with herbs and other ingredients added. What all breads that are called "artisan" have in common is that they are not mass-produced, but crafted. Making this bread is an art. Each loaf is unique. The gospel this Sunday is about bread. However, this bread is surely not mass-produced in some factory. It is not even artfully crafted in some small bakery or home kitchen, as special as that is. This bread is unique, unequaled, unsurpassed in its nourishment. This bread is more than a staple of life. It is Life.
In the gospel Jesus is the bread that is the living bread; this is all we need to "live forever." The reasoning is simple enough: by partaking of Jesus' Body and Blood we become what we eat—we become the "one body" (second reading) in which we all share. This is the "Holy Communion" that assures us of who we are as baptized Christians—the Body of Christ. This is why Eucharist is (and remains throughout our life) a sacrament of initiation: we are constantly being fed on the Bread of Life and constantly drawn more deeply into being who we are—members of the one Body of Christ.
As members of Christ's Body, we are to be his life poured out in our everyday good living. We are to give our life—his life!—unreservedly for others. As this living bread nourishes us, so are we to nourish others. The sacramental eating and drinking of Jesus' Body and Blood is the culmination and ritual manifestation of the self-giving of our everyday living. It is our strength for choosing to be who this bread makes us to be: the living Body of Christ given for others. The challenge ultimately issued by this solemnity is to be as giving as Jesus is. This is the way to eternal Life. Jesus giving himself as living bread is a foretaste of the Life that one day we will share eternally with him. Jesus is the "living bread that came down from heaven." When we eat this bread we "will live forever." The Life this bread gives is eternal.
Heaven is above. Forever is beyond. Life is fleeting. But Life eternal is here and now in Jesus, "the living bread" who "came down from heaven" to give himself "for the life of the world." We who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal Life now. Heaven is not above. Forever is not beyond. Life is not fleeting. Because Jesus is living bread. It is far too easy for us to file out of our pews or chairs into the Communion line, receive, return, leave after Mass is over, and get on with our lives. The food and drink that Jesus offers us in this memorial celebration requires of us conscious preparation, deliberate partaking, and ongoing savoring by how we live. The Divine Artisan crafts us to live more holy and self-giving lives. We can't just put on a costume or cloak of being Jesus' followers; sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ means that we share in Jesus' life of self-giving. This means becoming more aware of others' needs and responding to them; it means doing our everyday tasks well and out of love; it means being honest, just, and forgiving. Eternal life is the fruit of our transformation in Christ. We are to remain in him and are sent to be his Presence in the world.