Apart from the institution narratives, we also have other NT texts that refer to the Eucharist. St. John does not have a last supper narrative but does have a “discourse on the Bread of Life” (Jn 6), and the episode of washing of the feet which he locates before the feast of Passover (Jn 13:1-20). Why this difference? Does St. John’s Gospel confirm or complete, or perhaps weaken or contradict the earlier accounts of other evangelists? These gospel narratives reflect different oral traditions.
The Synoptic Gospels and Paul emphasize the cultic act carried out by Jesus during his last supper, where as John is more interested in recalling the foundation for this act, that is, the love of God and of the neighbour. “Before the feast……..” Jn 13:1-6. He explained “Do you understand what I have done for you?…..” Jn 13:12-16. Such is the lesson of washing of the feet; Jesus thus expresses in a different way than his words over bread and wine, his love for people, which he manifested through his life and by his passion and death on the cross. This episode begins the long exchange between Jesus and the apostles on the eve of his passion, which constitutes his spiritual testament and whose theme is mutual love. “I give you….” Jn 13:34-36, then during the final encounter a metaphor that of the vine and its branches, becomes the basis for this teaching: “remain in me……” Jn 15:4. Thus John accents the fruit of the celebration of the Last Supper – the love of God and of the neighbour. “Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes “to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1), a love which knows no measure” (EE 11).
Chapter 6 of the John’s Gospel speaks about the life giving nourishment. Jesus explicitly says: “It is I who am the bread of life….” (Jn 6:26-65). This long discourse follows the signs of the multiplication of bread. Jesus offers his life as food and drink. But what type of food are we speaking of: is this the bread of the Eucharist? verses 48 to 59 of John 6 state that this food is that of the Eucharist. Let us take into account the context: after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves Jesus addresses a crowd which is experiencing hunger and thirst, and he intends to lead them to desire the divine nourishment which is nothing less than his person, “You must strive to obtain not a food that passes away, but the food that leads to life eternal”…this is not an interpretation but an affirmation that is to have eternal life you must eat my flesh and drink my blood… the allusion to Manna supports his claim (cf. Jn 6: 49,50). Finally Jesus expresses clearly: “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”, real could be translated also as “genuine” and means that it truly nourishes, while John uses the word “truly” distinguish this bread from the Manna which was entirely different from what Jesus offers (Manna could not prevent death). Thus Jesus expresses the necessity of eating “his flesh and blood”, this eating and drinking take place in a spiritual way and can only come about through faith (cf. Jn 6: 35,47,63).
The discourse describes Jesus’ mission, his coming from and going to the Father, and it assures those who believe and share in the sacrament that they are included in that process. This process that leads to life is the work of the divine Spirit, for “it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless…”.