"In the Breaking of the Bread"
Sunday Homily for April 6, 2008
Third Sunday of Easter (3A)
By Father Clyde A. Bonar, Ph.D.
When she was eleven years old, St. Thérese of Lisieux received her First Holy Communion.
About her First Communion. St. Thérese wrote, "What comfort it brought to me, that first kiss our Lord imprinted on my soul! A lover's kiss; I knew that I was loved, and I, in my turn, told him that I loved him." In Holy Communion, Christ was present to the young girl Thérese. Totally present, as a divine lover.
"Prevented from Recognizing Him"
If St. Thérese of Lisieux recognized Christ in Holy Communion, why didn't Cleopas and his friend recognize Jesus as Christ walked with them on the road to Emmaus? Two disciples, side by side with Jesus. Our Gospels says, "their eyes were prevented from recognizing him."
Actually, wouldn't it be surprising if the two had recognized Jesus? Before Christ rose from the dead, the Jewish people had no belief in resurrection. Perhaps, at the end of time, everyone would be raised up. But, no single person would be resurrected now, not before time ended. Remember, the Bible tells us, "as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead" (John 20:9).
It's hard to see what we do not expect to see. Jesus was dead, the disciples had seen him die. Dead people lie in their graves. No one would expect to see the crucified Christ up and walking around.
And, besides, the disciples were grieving. When grief gripes our souls, we are numb to what's happening about us. After his eleven year old son, Willie, died, Abraham Lincoln and his wife closed the door on his room, and never went into that room again. Grief overwhelmed them.
In the same way, grief crushes the two disciples walking to Emmaus. The crucifixion of Jesus, too terrible to think about. Jesus had been their friend, their charismatic teacher. Christ, the light of the world, drew people to him by his love and compassion, his magnetism. Now, he's gone. Dead and buried. They feel like a door has been slammed in their faces. Their souls cry in grief.
Rumors that a couple of women had seen the Risen Christ, these two disciples dismiss out of hand. Too fantastic to believe, they think.
Cleopas and an unnamed companion, two disciples of Christ, walking to Emmaus. The Risen Lord walks beside the two, and they do not recognize him. Grief clouded their vision. They would never expect to see Jesus again.
Distant Times and Distant Places
But special moments of awareness across time and place are not unusual in human experience. In fact, we rejoice in these feelings of closeness. A closeness to God or feeling the presence of a distant loved one or being part of some great event that happened somewhere else.
That's why people flock to where the World Trade center used to be. To shutter, to visualize planes crashing into buildings, to feel a part of. To recall Father Mychal Judge, New York City Fire Department Chaplain. He ran into the falling tower to give Last Rites. Those were his guys, he was "the Firemen's Friar."
Folks go to ground zero to get this feeling of closeness, to somehow be a part of that tragic event. Standing on the viewing walkway, we feel we can almost reach out and touch this Franciscan priest, Father Mychal.
That's why we go on pilgrimage. To be where Jesus was. To walk where saints trod. When we descend into the cave beneath the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, and stand where Jesus was born, it's a close moment to Christ. We say a prayer, because we stand where Jesus lay in the manager, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
Or, at Lourdes. Kneeling in the grotto, we feel as if we kneel with Bernadette herself. And, we look up. Today there's a statue of Our Lady. Our soul feels the presence of Mary. Quietly talking to us, as she spoke to Bernadette all those years ago.
We all have close moments, spiritual experiences. Celebrating Mass in the cathedral church of Krakow, it runs through our minds, here is were Pope John Paul II, then Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, celebrated Mass. We feel the presence of a holy man.
Special moments of awareness across time and place are not unusual to human experiences. Visiting the rubble of the World Trade Center, or kneeling in prayer at the grotto at Lourdes, we feel a part of events and happenings of distant times and distant places.
"In the Breaking of the Bread"
Question is, How do we get that feeling of closeness to Christ? One answer, Come to Mass. Our Gospel describes the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Christ is present at Mass!
First, remember these are two disciples. As disciples of Jesus, they had a habit of praying in the synagogue. They spent time with Jesus and at the synagogue they heard him preach. They'd been with Jesus as he worked miracles.
Then, as Christ interpreted to these disciples all the Scriptures about him, their hearts burned within. The disciples knew the Holy Scriptures of Judaism, they were ready to recognize the Risen Lord. The words "burning within" tell us, their souls knew they were in the presence of the Risen Lord.
For us, here's a prime way to open ourselves up to Jesus. Listen to God's Word. Here at Mass, we start with the Liturgy of the Word. Reading passages from the Old and New Testaments, singing a Psalm, hearing the Gospel proclaimed. God is present in his Word.
When we read the Bible, when we listen carefully to the readings at Mass, it's God himself speaking to us. We hear from a friend who knows us. Our friend Jesus, totally divine and totally human, experienced the same things we humans experience in life.
Walking the dusty roads of Galilee, Christ got thirsty and tired. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. He got frustrated when the disciples thought he talked in riddles, and Jesus had to explain again and again about the kingdom of God.
As did the hearts of these two disciples burn within, so too our hearts burn with joy. In the Liturgy of the Word, Jesus talks to us, he's one of us, truly human and also God the Son.
Then, our Gospels says, Jesus made himself known to the disciples "in the breaking of the bread." Christ "took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him."
First, Jesus talks with us in the Liturgy of the Word. Then, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we come face to face with Christ. Our gift of bread becomes the bread of life. Bread turned into the Body of Christ. Our gift of wine becomes our spiritual drink. Wine turned into the Blood of Christ.
We see Jesus. Christ present, a Real Presence, as truly and as totally present as at the Last Supper.
How do we get that feeling of closeness to Christ? When we listen to God's Word, our hearts burn with recognition of Jesus. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, like the disciples, we know Jesus "in the breaking of the bread."
Two disciples, walking to Emmaus, Christ had just been crucified. Then something happened no one would every expect. The Risen Christ joins the disciples walking down the road. As Jesus speaks, their burning hearts tell them, here's a special person; "in the breaking of the bread," they recognize Jesus.
We, you and I, we are also on the road of Emmaus. The same thing happens to us at Mass as happened to the disciples. God speaks to us, in the Liturgy of the Word. Then, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
What a God, arranging to be with us, just like on the road to Emmaus. Present in his Word, present in Holy Communion.