One of the classic interpretations of the experience of the two disciples meeting and walking with the Risen Lord on their way to Emmaus is to identify the Eucharistic dimension in the breaking of the bread. The disciples, we are told in Luke 24:16, were unable to recognize Jesus because, literally, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Like Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s Gospel account, the two disciples are stilted in their faith experience because they’ve remained locked in the tomb of Good Friday, unable yet to see the resurrected Christ and the saving action of God unfolding in their midst. They are experiencing confusion, disappointment and despair, so we are led to believe.
Then Jesus appears to them as the resurrected Christ and, after initially not recognizing them, he is seen as he really is “in the breaking of the bread” (v. 31) and he disappears again from their sight. While it is true that there are allusions here to the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic feast, this is not the whole picture. One of the important things that we must keep in mind is the context and content of that “first Eucharist” (although, it can be said that Jesus celebrated many eucharistic meals with disciples, outcasts and all sorts throughout his earthly ministry).
On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus celebrated something akin (if not exactly) the Passover meal with his closest friends, family and followers. This much we know. We also know that the meal was — as biblical, historical and liturgical scholars make clear — very ordinary in the sense that there were the Jewish prayers of thanksgiving offered and the blessing of the cups (ever wonder why the Eucharistic Prayer at mass reads: “he said the blessing” and not “a blessing?” It’s because there was a very particular blessing being said, the traditional Jewish blessing).
Yet, something changed. Jesus didn’t just pray the normal Shabbat or Passover or some other prayers, he added something: this is my body, this is my blood. What was ordinary, what was expected, what was predictable became anything but!
In the adaptation of the prayers, Jesus reveals the self-offering that would become the Eucharistic Celebration of those who walk in his footprints and “Call to Mind” all that has taken place — the saving life, death and resurrection of the Lord. The prayers of thanksgiving now extend to a new chapter of Salvation History and reflect the game changer of the Incarnation and Resurrection.
So back to that dinner alongside the road to Emmaus with the two disciples…
What unfolds is another experience of the ordinary-turned-extraordinary. The two men think nothing of stopping at the appropriate time and sharing prayer and a meal together. What Jesus did was nothing but ordinary too. He took the bread they were going to eat anyway, said the prayer that they would have also said had he not been there, and served it to the two men — all very usual.
Except, it was in this ordinary experience of table fellowship and prayer that the two recognized who had been with them all along!
So much of our lives involve traveling here and there, going to work, checking emails, eating meals, chatting with family and friends — very ordinary things. But can we come to see the Risen Lord who journeys with us along the path of our lives? It might not be Emmaus, exactly, but we are all journeying somewhere and the Christ the Lord is on the path alongside us.
Most of us, even when telling the story of Christianity — as the two men told the unrecognized Jesus on their way — fail to see the Lord who is already in our midst. How can we better recognize the Risen Lord in both the breaking of the bread and in the ordinariness of the rest of our lives?