It is always interesting to me, in this story of the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus, how the one thing that got through to them was the breaking of the bread. He spent a long time walking with them, interpreting the Scriptures and recollecting all the things that had happened on the way. But they never knew it was Jesus until he broke bread with them.
Because of this, the early Christian community quickly took on a Eucharistic identity. They gathered often and took part in the breaking of the bread, and it is in this act of worship that they found the icon of who they were. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus had commanded them, and through appearances like this one on the road to Emmaus, they quickly began to see how important this actually was. And because the early Christian Community found its own identity in the breaking of the bread, it is not terribly surprising, I think, that we find ourselves to be a Eucharistic people.
Listen to the part of the Gospel where he reveals himself to them once again: “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” There are four specific verbs here: took, blessed, broke, gave. First Jesus takes bread, receives our offerings, uses what we have to bring to the table. Then he blesses that bread: as wanting as our gifts may be, Jesus blesses them anyway and gives them a character that they could never have on their own, or as a result of our own poor efforts. Then he breaks it: just as his own body was broken for us on the cross, so he breaks the bread of our offerings so that it can be a sacrifice given for many. Finally he gives it: our bread, our offerings, are now completely transformed, filled up with whatever they may lack, blessed and made available to many, and now given for our own sanctification and salvation. The gifts we have given, which ultimately came from God, are now given to us once again, only this time with more blessing than they ever had.
This weekend we have been celebrating First Holy Communion with our second graders. I always love celebrating that with them, and I always tell them that this is not their last Holy Communion, but just the first of many, and every single one of those Holy Communions will be special for them. Maybe you can remember your own First Holy Communion, the people that were with you, the special clothes you wore, how you felt getting to receive the Lord for the very first time. Sometimes maybe we get a little lax: we don’t receive Communion with as much zeal as we did that first time. So maybe it’s a good thing for us to do today as we receive Communion: remember our first time, and the joy of it, and experience that joy once again.
This story of the journey to Emmaus is an important one for us to hear with fresh ears. Because this story reminds us what Holy Communion is all about. Just as those disciples came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, so it will be for us. Filled with the grace of today’s Holy Communion, maybe we can recognize our Lord with fresh eyes and truly see him in our brothers and sisters. Maybe you will see our Lord in the faces of the needy when you come to serve them. Maybe you will see him in the faces of your children as you teach them and correct them and love them into the kingdom of God. Maybe you will see him in the face of a coworker or friend who is going through a difficult time. As we love those people the Lord puts in our paths, maybe we can see our Lord among us in a new way.
God has given us wonderful gifts. We have been blessed in so many ways. And so we need to offer him our best: our faithful attendance at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, our reverent care for the people in our lives and those who are in need, our joyful preaching of the Gospel by living lives of integrity and honesty. Jesus takes all these gifts from us, grateful for the love with which we offer them. He blesses these gifts and perfects them when they are flawed. He breaks those gifts so that they can be given for many, and the gives them to us to receive new life and even more blessing.
We are a Eucharistic people. So we gather over and over to find our identity once again. We offer our gifts: bread and wine, our experiences, our sorrows and joys, our loving and our living, our successes and failures, who we are and who we were meant to be. Jesus takes all this, blesses it, breaks it and offers it back redeemed and sanctified and made whole and holy. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we not only recognize our Lord in the breaking of the bread, but also we recognize our true selves, the ones we were created to be.
With those first disciples, we find our hearts burning within us as we hear these wonderful stories of Sacred Scripture, and we come here again and again so that we may receive our Lord and recognize him in the breaking of the bread.