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Posted October 12, 2005

A Timely and Beautifully Written Reflection on the Eucharist
During the Year of the Eucharist

Emmanus and The Eucharist

by Rev. John Lodge

The story of the Risen Lord’s appearance to two disciples as they are making their way to the obscure village of Emmaus astonishes and electrifies us. It is a tale of appearance and disappearance, of revelation and hiddenness. Above all, the story in Luke’s hands becomes an icon or teaching about the Eucharist. How is the risen Jesus present to us now? It is in the breaking of the bread.

Gathering (Luke 24:13-16)

The day is that very day, the first day of the week, Sunday, when – as we’ve just been told – some women found Jesus’ tomb empty and men in dazzling clothing saying Jesus had risen from the dead. The disciples do not believe the impossibily good news. Two of them, instead of being reliable witnesses to the good news in Jerusalem (two men is the number you need for dependable evidence: Deut 19:15), are running away to Emmaus. The further they move away from Jerusalem – the city that, according Jesus, is the place to be — the more confused they become.

The Good Shepherd appears beside them on the road to gather them back to Jerusalem, the city of destiny. As in the parable of the ninety-nine sheep, Jesus has left the main body of disciples in order to bring back the wanderers. Since the two cannot understand what has happened to them either in light of the Scriptures of Jesus’ words and deeds while among them: the two disciples are prevented (=God prevents them: a divine passive) from fully recognizing (epiginosko) who this is with them. Just as at the beginning of Luke’s gospel Zechariah’s speech was impaired when he doubted the angel, now the disciples’ sight is affected when they disbelieve the full meaning of what the women have seen and reported.

Liturgy of the Word (Luke 24:17-27)

Jesus’ question about what the two disciples are discussing stops them in their tracks, and their grief overtakes them. One of the disciples, Cleopas, ironically accuses Jesus of being out of touch with the current events. Cleopas, with help from the other disciples, then gives a concise summary of all that Luke has been narrating: Jesus’ prophetic ministry of might words and deeds, his death at the hands of the Jewish and Roman officials, the dashed hopes of those awaiting Israel’s redemption, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the vision of angels. Only one thing is missing: comprehension of the meaning of the events, a comprehension which the readers of Luke’s gospel have. On the lips of the foolish disciples, Jesus’s story is an ungospel, simply the story of the “historical Jesus.”

Liturgy of the Eucharist (Luke 24:28-32)

The disciples seem to be impressed, because, though Jesus appeared to be going further, they prevail upon him to stay with them. Then they are at table. Meals with Jesus are a major theme of Luke’s gospel; but this is not just any meal. Luke clearly presents this banquet as the Eucharist: he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. Luke used the same language in the miraculous feeding and at the Last Supper.

Two things that then happen almost simultaneously highlight the significance of the Emmaus Eucharist. The disciples are now allowed to fully recognize Jesus, and, just as he appears clearly to them, he disappears from their sight. The are so excited that, although it is now evening, the run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the others how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread, i.e., the Eucharist.

The point of the story is that, though in a hidden, sacramental way, Jesus is really present for believers now in the Eucharist. When we’re tempted to wish that we were back there with the disciples, seeing the risen Lord, we should recall that we are better off now than they were. The Risen Lord was present only in a limited way: in specific places. Now, in the Eucharist, Jesus can be present in all times and places, in all our hearts.