Seeing Jesus in the breaking of the bread
"Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into His glory? Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures." Luke 24:25-27
One of the most often-painted scenes in the Gospel is the appearance of Jesus to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The Italian artist Caravaggio painted two versions of Supper at Emmaus. Both works show Jesus as an animated teacher who makes the Scriptures come alive as He helps Cleopas and his fellow disciple come to a better understanding of their Lord's passion, death and resurrection.
Rembrandt's work, Christ at Emmaus, shows the two disciples' amazement as they recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Rembrandt depicts the two disciples as awe-struck but not afraid while others in the paintings (usually servants) are unaware of the miracle that is taking place right before their eyes.
I think one of the reasons for the popularity of this scene is the fact that St. Luke's Gospel describes the miraculous appearance in vivid detail. The Evangelist also tells us -- in no uncertain terms -- how the two disciples felt both before they recognized the Lord and afterward.
The disciples were downcast and disheartened. They left Jerusalem following the horrible events of Christ's passion and death and headed to the village of Emmaus some seven miles away. They knew that the tomb where Jesus had been buried was found to be empty, but they assumed that was the result of foul play. They really did not understand what had just happened "to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" (Luke 24:19).
Why didn't they recognize the "stranger" they met along the road who walked with them? St. Luke simply says "their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him" (Luke 24:16), but similar stories of the risen Lord's appearances suggest to us that He was changed -- transformed -- and, as a result, was not immediately recognizable even by those who had been his closest friends and companions. Medieval artists who painted the Lord and the two disciples walking along the road often depicted the stranger (Jesus) wearing a large floppy hat or a shawl-like head covering to illustrate the fact that the two disciples didn't recognize Him at first.
The Gospel story, and the many artistic depictions of it down through the ages, gives witness to some very powerful and important truths.
First of all, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus calls attention to our blindness, our inability, to see the miracles that occur in our daily lives. We truly are foolish and slow of heart when we fail to recognize the presence and power of God in our midst.
Secondly, the Emmaus story affirms Jesus' ability to open our minds and hearts through the power of His teaching. By listening to the Word of God attentively and by prayerfully reading sacred Scripture, we can come to know Him, love Him and serve Him as friends and faithful disciples, and as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Thirdly, the place where we encounter the risen Lord most intimately is in the holy Eucharist, the breaking of the bread. The real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is a gift more precious than anything we can possibly imagine. The fact that we take for granted (or pay no heed to) the "miraculous appearance" of the risen Lord in the Sunday or daily Eucharist is an indication of just how blind we can be.
Finally, the disciples who fled the Holy City in despair were compelled to hurry back in order to share with others their amazement, enthusiasm and joy. This is what comes from an encounter with Jesus. We must cry out, from the depths of our souls: "Did not our hearts burn within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us" (Luke 24:32)?
The Lord has truly risen and has appeared to us in the breaking of the bread. This Easter season, let's open our eyes. Let's listen prayerfully. And let's meet the Lord face to face in the holy Eucharist.
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