Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Emmaus - He was known to them in the Breaking of the Bread

Paul Meyendorff, Professor of Liturgical Theology at St Vladimir's Seminary, New York, writes: 

After his resurrection, on the first day of the week, Jesus meets two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, but they fail to recognize him. They describe to him the peculiar events that had taken place earlier that day, including the report they had received from the women who had discovered the empty tomb and had had a vision of angels. Jesus then proceeds to interpret to them "in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27), but still they do not realize who is speaking to them. Only after he "took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 24:30), do they recognize the Lord. Returning to Jerusalem, the disciples tell the eleven "how he was known to them in the breaking of bread" (Luke 24:35). Luke, alone among the evangelists, recounts this incident, and he does so in great detail. And these details tell us a great deal about how the Apostolic Church lived. 

First, it is clear that this passage refers to the Eucharist. Jesus' actions over the bread (taking, blessing, breaking, giving) directly echo what he did at the Last Supper. The recipients of the gospel, accustomed to celebrating the Lord's Supper, would have immediately recognized this, just as did the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We who receive the gospel today, just as the two disciples that day, were not at the Last Supper, yet we too recognize the Lord in the breaking of bread. 

The eucharistic sense of this passage is further emphasized by the fact that this encounter takes place on the "first day of the week." From the very beginning, the church would gather on this day to break bread. The gospels were written for a church that had already for thirty to forty years been celebrating the Eucharist on the first day of every week in fulfillment of the Lord's command, "Do this in memory of me." Quite naturally, the gospel account reflects the liturgical practices of the Early Church. 

But it is a third point that is perhaps the most important. After his resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for only a short time until his ascension. After forty days, the Lord no longer appeared to the disciples or to anyone else. Yet, through the Holy Spirit, he remained with the Church, precisely in the breaking of bread. The chief message of this gospel passage, therefore, is that if we recognize the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we no longer need miraculous appearances of the Lord. And, until Christ returns in glory, we have the certainty that he remains with us when we partake of his Body and Blood. 

It is no accident, therefore, that the eucharistic liturgy has always been at the very center of the life of the Church, which is the Body of Christ, as well as of each individual Christian, who is a member of that Body. Truly, he is known to us in the breaking of bread.


See also:

They Knew Him in the Breaking of the Bread - a sermon I preached in Eastertide, 2003.


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