In this Sunday's Gospel we see how two disciples go from the darkness of unbelief to the light of Easter faith through scripture and the breaking of the bread. What does this means for us? Well this is very good news because it shows us how we are invited to encounter the Risen Lord Jesus through word and sacrament as every Holy Mass. First, we see two disciples on Sunday evening walking away from Jerusalem. They have given up their hope that Jesus was the redeemer. A stranger suddenly walks next to them but their "eyes are closed" so they did not know it was Jesus. This is particularly remarkable because tradition holds that Cleopas was the brother of St. Joseph and he did not recognize his nephew.
Yet, this nameless stranger (Jesus) begins to open their eyes first by becoming their student and asking them questions. In answering him they show that they believe Jesus was indeed a prophet and hoped he was the Messiah who would take back Israel from the Romans. Here we see that they mistake the mission of the Messiah as a political conquerer instead of a savior from sin and death. The two disciples are also perplexed at the empty tomb of Jesus and that some women had a vision of angels who said he was alive. Then, Jesus begins to open their eyes, not by saying their personal names as with Mary Magdalen, or showing them his wounds in his hands feet and side as with Thomas, but by showing them how Moses and the Prophets spoke of the Messiah and how he had to suffer and die so as to redeem Israel from sin. Jesus reverses roles here from their scripture student to their Bible teacher.
However, even though the two disciples still don't recognize the true identity of this stranger they still feel enough warmth and kinship with him to offer him hospitality by saying: "Stay with us." The stranger then becomes their guest. The rules of hospitality in the ancient world dictated that the guest would only tell his story and reveal his identity after he was served a meal. However, Jesus again reverses roles and goes from being their guest to being their host by serving them a meal. He took bread blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. This is a familiar four step ritual action that these men would have either personally witnessed or heard about at the feeding of the five thousand or at the Last Supper. In all instances Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread. At this very moment Luke says "Their eyes were opened and they knew him." What does this mean?
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their "eyes were opened" (Gen. 3:7). While Adam and Eve's eyes experienced evil and nakedness for the first time the eyes of the disciples experience the Risen Christ clothed in glory for the first time. With the use of this familiar phrase Luke presents Jesus here as the New Adam who reverses the effects of the first meal of the fallen creation by replacing it with the first meal of the new creation.
Why does Jesus vanish at this moment? The vanishing Jesus seems to show that the breaking of the bread or the meal of the new creation is the primary way the disciples will encounter the Risen Christ in the future. The Risen Jesus is present at every Eucharist both in word and in sacrament. All the graces and truths of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ are being transferred to the sacraments. In other words, the scripture and the sacraments are where we now encounter the Lord Jesus in a symbolic yet effective way.
Then, the two disciples in Emmaus immediately turn around and walk the seven mile journey back to Jerusalem. Conversion, or in Greek "metanoia," literally means to turn around or change one's mind. These disciples have gone through a conversion experience when they encountered the Lord in the breaking of the bread. This experience turns them back to Jerusalem an important message that they have seen the Lord in the breaking of the bread. Simon Peter and other disciples by this time have seen the Lord but none have seen him in the breaking of the bread. The two disciples reflect back on their experience and say two interesting things.
First, they say their hearts were burning within them when he opened the scriptures to them. This shows that Jesus is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit and in fire and one of the effects of this fire baptism is a deeper understanding of scripture. Second, they say they knew Jesus in the breaking of the bread. This means that the risen Jesus can be encountered in the word and the in the Eucharist in every Holy Mass.
We stand at the reading of the Gospel because it is Christ who speaks to us. We kneel before the altar when the priest takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread of life to us. Every Holy Mass is an invitation to have our hearts burn and our eyes opened to recognize the real presence of the Risen Christ in the Eucharist so we too can say "we have seen the Lord in the breaking of the bread."