It was as Jesus broke the bread with the two disciples in Emmaus that they finally recognized him as their risen Lord.
Among Jews, this gesture was typically used to commence the eating of an ordinary meal. Certainly Jesus performed this common practice each day when he ate with his disciples. However, he also invested this gesture with special meaning: “the breaking of bread” is the expression with which the first Christians described the eucharistic liturgy (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7).
The structure of the eucharistic liturgy as it has been celebrated from the days of the early church mirrors that of the Emmaus episode. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained the Scriptures to Cleopas and his companion, presenting to them an overview of salvation history and showing how his entire life—his birth, messianic identity and mission, redemptive death, and resurrection—was foretold by the prophets (Luke 24:25-27). Then, after their hearts had been prepared by this “unfolding” of the word of God, Jesus sat at table with the two disciples and blessed and broke the bread and gave it to them, a sequence of actions recalling the multiplication of the loaves (Luke 9:16) and the Last Supper (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:26). Similarly, at Mass Jesus gives himself to us both in word and in sacrament as we hear the Scriptures proclaimed and receive his body and blood in Communion. Indeed, it is through the proclamation of God’s word and the breaking of the bread that the risen Lord remains present with us and with the whole church.
Luke frequently used the Greek verb dianoigo in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles. In its most literal sense, this word means “to open something that is shut” in order to gain access into it or passage through it—for example, a closed door or sealed container. Even a womb is said to be opened in giving birth (Luke 2:23), and the heavens were opened when Stephen beheld a vision of the Son of man at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56). Yet dianoigo can also be used metaphorically. Thus, when Luke wrote of the Emmaus travelers that “their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:31), he did not mean that they gained visual sight by physically opening closed eyelids. Rather, they experienced supernatural revelation and insight and an inner awareness to recognize Jesus spiritually. And when Jesus opened the Scriptures to the two disciples, he did not unroll a scroll to show what was written on it, but imparted to their hearts a burning spiritual understanding of God’s word (24:32). Luke again used dianoigo when he told how Jesus opened the minds of the apostles in Jerusalem to comprehend the meaning the Scriptures (24:46) and how the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to Paul’s preaching about Jesus (Acts 16:14).
In the request that Cleopas and his companion made to Jesus—“Stay with us,” which also means “abide”—we hear echoes of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel of John (15:4-10): “Abide in me, and I in you.” Although Jesus vanished from their physical sight at the moment the disciples recognized him in faith, his abiding presence remained with them, indeed, even in them—and remains with and in us, too—through the Eucharist. It is in receiving Christ’s body and blood that we can abide in him and he in us.
Finally, when the disciples recognized Jesus, they returned excitedly to Jerusalem to tell the other apostles of his resurrection from the dead. We too are called to share the good news of Jesus: “How very significant is the bond between the Church's mission and the Eucharist. . . . Whoever receives Christ in the reality of his Body and Blood cannot keep this gift to himself, but is impelled to share in courageous witness to the Gospel” (Pope Benedict XVI).
• Recall a situation when you failed to recognize how Jesus was present there. What kept you from being aware of his presence? Your own preconceived ideas? Complacency? Intellectual doubt?
• Think of an occasion when your heart “burned” within you as you listened to a particular Scripture reading at Mass. How did this word affect your life? If listening to the readings at Mass has been dry or routine to you, what could you do to increase your expectation that God will open his word to you there?
Excerpted from Food from Heaven: The Eucharist in Scripture by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, 2007). Available at wau.org/books