“And they came to know him in the breaking of the bread,” St. Luke tells us at the conclusion of today’s Gospel passage. The passage is another account of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The story recalls the meeting of the two disciples as they meet the risen Lord on their way from Jerusalem. One of the disciples was Cleopas; the name of the other remains unmentioned. They were followers of Jesus. As they are leaving Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was just crucified and buried, they are leaving their hopes behind as we hear them tell the unrecognized Jesus as they walk along “we were hoping that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
St. Luke also tells us they “looked downcast” when they first met Jesus. They were in grief. Jesus, in whom they had placed their hope, was tortured and executed in a horrendous manner. Added to their grief was confusion. They mention to Jesus that “some women of our group have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning but did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
As they walk along the road to Emmaus, seven miles distant from Jerusalem, Jesus begins to explain to them the passages in Sacred Scripture which referred to him. Particularly those dealing with the suffering that the Messiah would endure in entering “into his glory.” As he speaks to them they listen intently. The hope that had been fading was being rekindled. What were they thinking as they walked along? Could the story the women told be true? Is the Lord alive?
St. Luke does not tell us exactly what they were thinking but he does tell us what they were experiencing. Once they recognize that it is Jesus they recount the journey on the road and how their “hearts (were) burning within” them as he spoke with them. Specifically as he “opened the Scriptures to us.” Jesus speaks with them along the road using the sacred texts of the Old Testament; and as the Word of God he opens for them their meaning. He invites them to understand the Scriptures through a whole new light.
Another reaction they have to the encounter on the road is that they want it to continue — they want to be in the presence of Jesus even though they still did not recognize him. They press him, “stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
Jesus goes into the home or inn to which they had traveled. As they gathered at the table, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” The words and action are reminiscent of the last supper, four days before. As Jesus gathered with the apostles in the upper room he said: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I will not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Shortly thereafter, St. Luke tells us, “He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying ‘This is my body, which will be given for you, do this in memory of me.” Likewise the words echo in our ears, and the action we witness, every time we celebrate the Mass.
Now their eyes are opened and they recognize that their companion on the way, the one with whom they eat, is the risen Jesus. At this point, the Lord vanishes from their sight. The joy they experience is overwhelming. Their hopes are fully restored. Their faith is enlivened. The Lord is risen! They cannot contain themselves. How could they remain where they were? How could they keep the good news to themselves?
They could not, “so they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them.” Once they arrive they quickly learn that Peter has also seen the risen Lord. Then “they recounted was had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
The witness of these two disciples in proclaiming the resurrection is likewise repeated by Simon and the other apostles who encounter the risen Lord.
The first reading for today’s liturgy recalls one of these proclamations. This is actually the first proclamation following Pentecost and it happens immediately. Peter and the eleven proclaim Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Like Jesus they too refer to the Scriptures (the Old Testament) as preparing them for the Messiah and helping them (and us) to understand. They proclaim that death was conquered by Christ for “neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption. God raised Jesus.” They continue, “of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he (Jesus) received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”
Now that the Holy Spirit has been given to the apostles the proclamation begins to grow and grow and grow. While Cleopas and his fellow disciple returned to Jerusalem to bear witness to the disciples, the apostles now go forth to the nations proclaiming the resurrection and inviting all to faith and salvation in Christ.
The proclamation continues today. We have inherited the witness of the apostles. The witness has been handed down generation to generation until it lands in our hands and in our lives. As we gather every Sunday at Mass, we hear the Scriptures proclaimed. Christ speaks to us in these words. Through his Spirit present in our midst he “opens the Scriptures” for us and ignites a fire in our soul.
Gathering around our priest and the altar, we proclaim his passion, his death and his resurrection in thanksgiving. As the bread is broken we come to know him anew. Renewed with his grace and filled with joy we go forth from the celebration and proclaim to our world that the Lord is risen and how we have come “to know him in the breaking of the bread.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.