Yesterday we considered the Emmaus story from the point of view of the left side of the icon. That is, the disciples hearts were burning within them as they walked with Jesus and He explained the Scriptures to them. The two disciples taught us to be oriented totally toward Jesus, who will set our hearts aflame with the Good News. We are set aflame with His love.
Today I would like to consider the right side of the icon which depicts the two disciples at table with Jesus as He breaks the bread. It is fitting that after a long day of walking and talking that they would stop to have an evening meal. Once again, they did not expect that the man who had been sharing this time with them would break the bread and then vanish. They did not expect that this man would turn out to be the Risen Christ, the one whom they previously thought might possibly be the Messiah, but who had died on the cross. Imagine their surprise when He blessed and broke the bread. Imagine their realization that it was Jesus as it registered in their minds and hearts. Before they could say a word, He was gone. But was He?
Something I have always loved about this part of the story is that it says "With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight." It does not say He was gone. It says He vanished from their sight. Indeed He is still present with them after He disappeared! He is the bread, blessed and broken. He is present in that bread which we call Eucharist. He has not left them, but rather He is with them in the way He promised us He would always be with us. Jesus said in John 6 that He is the Bread of Life. And at the Last Supper He told the disciples to bless and break the bread, to do it in memory of Him. Therefore we should not be surprised that He vanished from their sight, yet remained present in the bread. He remains present to us in both Word and Sacrament just as in the Emmaus story He remains present as He opens their hearts to the Word and He is present in the Bread blessed and broken.
Once again, the disciples are oriented toward Jesus at the table, just as we need to be oriented toward Him in the bread and wine become Body and Blood. It is an invitation to deep communion with Him, a communion to which we have access on a daily basis. This encounter in bread and wine ought to transform us as it did those two disciples, who immediately went running back to the community from which they had come. Their hearts were filled with joy. They set out at once, in the night, after that long walk which took all day. To travel in the night is interesting because of the dangers of the darkness. At night they could have encountered highway robbers, wild animals, or Roman soldiers; or they could have fallen, or lost their way. But that they did this means they feared nothing because they had the Light which conquers all darkness. They had the light of faith and renewed hope. And they had the light of Love which illumined their minds and hearts.
Are we transformed when we read the Word of God or partake in the sacrament of Eucharist? We cannot be the same after we do this. It is not really possible. Even if we cannot perceive it, we are most certainly not the same. We are filled with the very presence of God, so how could we be the same?
A beautiful example of this took place many years ago and it changed forever how I experience the Eucharist. I had just graduated from college and was helping with the youth choir at my parish. The chaplain at the local VA hospital called and asked if I would bring a few of the choir members and provide music for the patients, most of whom were suffering from PTSD and severe bodily injuries. One such man was in a wheel chair, obviously a quadriplegic. He could not swallow, nor did he have the ability to speak, taste, or smell. At communion the priest gave him some of the Blood of Christ, which he administered through a feeding tube that went straight to this man's stomach. The look on that mans' face when he received the Blood of Christ which he could neither taste, smell, or feel in any way, was beyond beatific. I have never seen anyone receive communion and be so visibly transformed in my life as the day that I witnessed this man receive the Blood of Christ. It changed everything for me in terms of my "understanding" of the transformative power of the Eucharist, and at that point I had not taken a single class in sacramental theology! It simply taught me more than any class ever could have about the reality of the Eucharist and what it does for us.
Another way to think of it would be to imagine that right this moment Jesus enters into the room where you are in a visible way. In other words, you see Him walk through the door and He approaches you. You spend only a few moments together, maybe five minutes, and then He tells you He has to go now, but that He will always be there for you. He embraces you and says, "I love you." Then He leaves and you do not see Him anymore. After this, would you be the same? Could you be the same? I do not think anyone would be the same as they were before an encounter such as this. We would be changed. So it is with the Eucharist. Every time we receive a sacrament we have an encounter with the Living God. It is impossible to be the same. Just as the two disciples were so transformed by their encounter that they had to run back to Jerusalem immediately, freed from the darkness that had been in their hearts, freed from the terrors of the night, so too can we be transformed if we accept the grace that comes from such an encounter.
The two disciples returned to the community to share their joy, to share the encounter with the apostles and other disciples still gathered in the Upper Room. And the Scriptures (Luke 24:36) say that while they were still speaking about what had happened to them and how Simon Peter had also seen Him, Jesus appeared right in the middle of the excited group. He said, "Peace be with you!" and proceeded to show them that He was indeed resurrected. This tells me that once we are transformed by the experience of Eucharist, seeing Him our midst becomes easier and easier. All we need to do is open our eyes to have faith that with each encounter He empowers us, gifts us, teaches us, renews us, heals us...whatever it is we need to be true disciples. We are no different than Cleopas and his companion. We have the same call. And we receive the same Jesus. Let our hearts become flame. This joy does not mean our problems and cares go away. But it does mean that He can help us handle these things with His grace. And it means we can receive the love He has for each of us.
Let us meet at the table of the Lord where He says, "Be at peace." May we be transformed by the presence of Jesus with each encounter in the Bread! May we come to know the same joy that He offered to them and offers to us daily! Let us meet in the Eucharist. Peace!
The icon is of the Road to Emmaus. This is a photo of the icon which I own.
The second is a photo of a giclee (copy) of Communion Cup and Host by Jan Davidsz de Heem a 17th painter from the Netherlands. I have this giclee hanging in my home. The original is in the National Gallery in London.
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Heart Speaks to Heart