The gospel of John is the only one which does not tell us of Jesus instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper. The sacrament of the bread of life had been celebrated for several decades before John wrote down his gospel so he felt no need to explain its origin but he deals with its meaning very thoroughly.
He reminds us of how people reacted when Jesus said, ‘I am the bread which has come down from heaven’. They complained and murmured. Some or many of them even left his company and dismissed his claims. They said, ‘We know his father and mother; how can he speak like this?’ Jesus replies by making his teaching very clear.
He explains that it is God the Father who draws us to himself through the Son. God wishes us to complete our earthly journey, our desert sojourn, with the help and strength of the bread he offers us and to come to its promise and fulfillment in eternal life. God teaches us these things through his Son, Christ; the living bread come down from heaven. This is God’s rescue effort. God reaches out to us in this sacrament, strengthening us, sharing his life with us, communing with us, and offering us a foretaste of the generosity and the togetherness which is heaven.
The manna which was fed to the people in the desert was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. As the people of the Old Testament made their way towards the Promised Land, God looked after them in many ways including providing food for the journey. Their earthly journey, like all earthly journeys, ended in death. The promise of the bread of life is that our journey will not end in the triumph of death over life but in eternal life, the very life offered to us in the Eucharist.
In the simplicity of a fragment of bread, in the ordinariness and humility of the sacrament of the bread of life, Jesus offers us everything we need.
For thirty years he had eaten of the bread of this world. He now offers us as his parting gift the most precious gift possible, the gift of himself, the promise of sharing in his life and in the life of the Father.