During the Easter season, the Sunday liturgy provides us with truly fascinating Scripture passages. We regularly encounter the first disciples trying to make sense of the Resurrection. At least we know that we are not alone doing so!
As the disciples discern the reality of the risen Lord, we read stories of joy, fear, bravery, doubt, clarity, confusion, etc. It is a roller coaster of emotions. We could not expect less.
From these many stories, this year I am reflecting more attentively upon those where the risen Jesus appears as a stranger, breaks bread, and as he does this, others recognize him.
This occurs when Jesus appears to his closest friends by the Sea of Galilee and cooks breakfast for them. It also happens in the well-known story about the encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
There is something revelatory about eating together. In these passages, those who break bread with the stranger all of a sudden discover themselves in the presence of the risen Lord, literally. They recognize Jesus. They also recognize themselves as believers.
When we break bread with those we love, relatives and friends, we open ourselves to the revealing and transformative power of their presence.
We listen to their stories; we want to know more about them, even when we disagree. The more we eat with others, the easier it is to love them and affirm who they are as human beings. When we eat with others, it becomes somewhat easier to see the face of Christ in them.
Something similar happens when eating with those we call strangers. In the process of breaking bread, we discover something. As Christians, we risk seeing the face of Jesus Christ in them.
A major trade-off our contemporary society has made to increase productivity, meet the demands of a fast-paced world or simply work longer hours to make ends meet is the dramatic reduction of moments when we break bread with others.
How many times do you eat alone in a week? Even when we sit with others to eat, the intrusive presence of smartphones and technology prevents us from truly being present to one another.
How can we recognize the face of Jesus in the other if we eat alone or when we are constantly distracted by the latest tweet, picture or post that comes our way?
From a medical and social perspective, the benefits of breaking bread together are many: healthier eating, less propensity to substance abuse and dangerous behaviors, more efficiency at school and at work, a stronger sense of belonging, compassion toward others, etc. From a faith perspective, again, we risk encountering Jesus Christ in the other!
My parish, St. Patrick’s in Lawrence, Massachusetts, has a meal center, Cor Unum, which serves about 500 meals every day. Hunger is real in the city where the parish is located. People who come to eat at Cor Unum sit at round tables and volunteers serve them.
At Cor Unum, many times I see volunteers sitting down to break bread with the people who come for a meal: immigrants, people who are poor, people who lost their jobs, people who are recovering from an addiction, people who are lonely, families with young children, etc.
Nearly everyone who has done this, including me, has witnessed seeing the face of Christ. How? I cannot tell exactly, yet I know that there is something revealing and transformative about breaking bread together. In doing this, we also discover ourselves as believers.
Whether you do it with relatives, friends or strangers, dare breaking bread with others, risk seeing Jesus’ face.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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