"Supper at Emmaus" (c. 1621) by Hendrick Terbrugghen
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psa. 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1 Pet. 1:17-21
I grew up attending a small Fundamentalist Bible chapel that believed the Lord’s Supper should be commemorated each week. Nearly every Sunday we took time to contemplate the death of Jesus Christ by quietly reflecting on the Cross and partaking of bread and grape juice.
It was not, of course, the Eucharist. But it was, in hindsight, an action that pointed me, however imperfectly, to the Eucharist and the Catholic Church. Today’s Gospel reading, one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Luke, beautifully shows the relationship between the supernatural gift of faith and Holy Communion.
Luke, a masterful storyteller, incisively describes how the disciples had completely lost their bearings and sense of spiritual direction in the overwhelming aftermath of Jesus’ death: “They stopped, looking downcast” (Lk. 24:17). Approached by Jesus, they failed recognize their Lord. Responding to His question about their conversation, the men explained their confusion: Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word” and yet He had not fulfilled their hope for redemption (v. 21). In addition to this disappointment there was the added mystery of the empty tomb, although they apparently hadn’t reached a conclusion about what it might actually mean.
Jesus chided them and took them to the Scriptures, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets”(v. 27), to show them the true nature of “the Christ.” There are several passages that Jesus likely showed them, including Deuteronomy 18:15, which promised “a prophet” like Moses, Psalm 2:7, a Messianic psalm, and Isaiah 53, which describes the Suffering Servant, as well as others. The disciples had to be shown that salvation and glory wouldn’t come through political might or social upheaval, but through humiliation, suffering, and apparent defeat.
Thus, on the road to Emmaus, there was a re-learning on the part of the disciples, who there heard a deeper explanation of the Scriptures they likely heard many times before. This was necessary in order for them to really grasp the significance of the Cross and its life-giving, soul-transforming meaning. This education came from the very One who sent the prophets and gave them words; who better than the Word Incarnate to illuminate the meaning of the sacred text? The narrative follows a distinct pattern of questioning, dialogue, and exposition of Scripture, leading to a sacrament, which is a pattern Luke uses again in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8).
Some commentators have suggested that the disciples finally recognized Jesus simply because of a familiar gesture on His part. But this understates how Luke purposefully uses the same description of Jesus’ actions“he took bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave it to them”as he does in his account of the Last Supper (Lk 22:19-20). Yes, the disciples certainly recognized that gesture, but the recognition was a gift of grace, and it was intimately linked with the reality of the Eucharist. Which is why they later told the others how Christ “was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
The story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus includes all of the essential elements of the Liturgy: Scripture, prayer, blessing, and the breaking of bread. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the “Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord's body and blood.” These elements, it emphasizes, “constitute one single act of worship” (CCC 1408).
Every person hungers for this act of worship, for we were made to worship God in that way. God, in His goodness, responds to that hunger. In the midst of the disciples’ confusion and blindness, Jesus sought them out, offered Himself to them, and opened their eyes. He did it for me, many years ago. He wishes to meet all of us on our road to Emmaus.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the April 6, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)