“What sign can you do?” The demand that God prove himself to us just never ends. And yet, he has given us the ultimate sign in the life, death, resurrection and exaltation of his Son. Even as the crowd in today’s gospel asks for “this bread always,” the sign of the Eucharist is still rejected, denounced, and misunderstood. It is as if the people that ask for a sign really don’t believe that God can work one. Their attitude is something like that of the people in the reading from Acts who get bent out shape because Stephen can see into the heavens where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.
As much as people want God to do something that will convince them God is present and interested, no sign ever truly satisfies. Jesus left us the ultimate sign in the transformed bread and wine that exist at the heart of our Christian lives. If God can indeed create out of nothing, then the entire created order lies open to God. If the Son can take flesh through a virginal conception and become one like us, then anything is possible with God. Just ask St. Luke!
The living bread come down from heaven is the Eucharistic species we receive at Mass. Although it appears to be what it was, through his power as God, the Holy Spirit enables what looks and tastes like bread and wine to communicate the substance of divinity. Anyone that has a problem with such a claim really has a problem with God acting within the created order on behalf of humanity. We can’t claim to believe in some signs and wonders and reject others. God either can or cannot act within the world of his creation.
It has always amused me that so many who claim to be Christian want to explain away the miracles of the Old and New testaments. I’m not really interested in a God that cannot act in time on my behalf in ways that are significant for me. And what could be more significant than that I can feed myself –substantially, on the Divine life which is both my origin and my destiny? I couldn’t possibly follow a God who is distant and no longer present. I don’t want to be left alone to my own devices because I know just how dull and insignificant my life would be. Without God acting in and with and for me here and now, life would be miserable, empty and meaningless.
The living bread come down from heaven, the Eucharist, assures me that Jesus has not left us and that my life matters. Giving what is needed to another is a great sign of love; thus there is no greater sign of love than the Eucharist through which God assures me that I have exactly what I need in order to be fully and freely who I am. This gift of God enables my life to resonate with the same confidence Stephen lived out his, and too it enables my heart to be determined by the same mercy with which Stephen utters his final words. How can bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus? How could God become a man? How could a man who’s God allow himself to be killed? How could the deaf hear, the lame walk and the blind see? How could a just man give his life in exchange for an unjust man? How could there be anything at all? How come I exist? How could a virgin conceive and give birth to a child? Blah, blah, blah!
We shouldn’t ask for any sign because we have been given all that we need. Miracles haven’t ceased because God never stops loving us and desiring that we share fully in his life. Jesus gave us the life giving bread come down from heaven on the night before he died. Somewhere in the world this miraculous gift everyday occurs. That’s how much we matter to God, that’s how much he longs to satisfy our hunger to be humanly whole and wholly divine.