Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Emmaus and Eucharist

Last Sunday, we heard a detail from the "Emmaus Story," the account given in the Gospel of Luke, about two disciples who were on a journey from Jerusalem to a small town named Emmaus. They encounter the Risen Jesus but they don’t recognize him. Several accounts about the Risen Jesus in the Scriptures have this same, mysterious detail: he is changed in appearance after the Resurrection.
It was not until he is at table with them and breaks the bread, that their eyes were opened and they recognized him. We heard that part of the story in last Sunday’s Gospel (on April 22): "The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread." (Luke 24:35) The "Breaking of the Bread" is one of the ancient Christian names for the Eucharist.

I was recently re-reading another blogger’s writing about what he called "The Emmaus Problem": "In the Gospel, when Jesus joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they didn’t know who He was until the breaking of the bread. Then ‘their eyes were opened and they recognized him’ (Lk 24:16, 31). This ‘Emmaus Problem’ is still with us. When the priest elevates the Host, many people still see only bread. Even those of us who believe that Christ is truly present need to grow in our ability to recognize who Christ is for us in the Eucharist and thus enter into fuller, more personal communion with Him."

To gaze on the face of Christ is first to keep "studying" him in the Gospels. The Gospels "illustrate" for us the personal life of Jesus (his "face"). He is also present to us in the Eucharist, as the Emmaus disciples experienced. Yet he still "hides" himself beneath the appearance of bread and wine. Our eyes must be enlightened by faith to be able to recognize him, as St. Faustina writes:

"Although You have hidden Yourself, my eye, enlightened by faith, reaches You, … my soul recognizes its Creator, … and my heart is completely immersed in prayer of adoration" (Diary, 1692).

Jacopo Pontormo painted the Supper at Emmaus (pictured below) for the Carthusian monastery of Galluzzo sometime between 1523 and 1527. He has painted into the scene some Carthusian monks, who of course were not present in first century Palestine. As one commentator notes: "[The artist] brings ‘a once and for all’ event of the past into the present; something wonderfully effected in every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."

The "Eye of God" above the head of the Risen Christ is later addition by some other painter. But it brings to my mind’s eye the need to see with faith the Risen Christ in every Eucharist, in every Breaking of the Bread.