Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence”.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:35–48 – NRSV)
This is the third appearance of the risen Christ in Luke. It takes place in Jerusalem on the same evening following the discovery of the empty tomb, immediately after the return of the two disciples from Emmaus with their report. “Christ appears to the nucleus Christian community, the house-church of his followers, gathered together in bewilderment, astonishment, and incredulity (24:36–43)”. (Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28A), New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008, 1572.)
There are two facts presented here: The appearance of Jesus on the road and the way in which they recognized him. This offers a paradigm for all disciples: Jesus walks with us – even when we do not recognize him – and he is revealed in and through the breaking of the bread. (See Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Chapter 2, “The people of God”, #11. Pope Pius XII had articulated this same teaching in 1947, in Mediator Dei, #201. See also Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324.) This teaching must be held in tension with the Church’s teaching concerning the Word of God. For example, in the Second Vatican Council’s document on Sacred Scripture, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), Chapter VI, “Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church”: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).” (#21)
In fact, Word and Sacrament are both evident in this passage from Luke. Jesus proclaims the Good News to both the two on the road and the gathering of disciples – who are listening to the two proclaim that Word. In the midst of this proclamation of the Word, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.
The breaking of the bread: This is the first such reference in Luke. We find it again however in Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (2:42). Joseph Fitzmyer notes: “True, it is not always said that the bread was distributed, but we are clearly confronted here with an abstract way of referring to the Eucharist, which was current in Luke’s time.” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, op cit, 1569.) Fitzmyer then goes on to point out the link between the sacramental celebration and the proclamation of the Word: “What is above all important is that the disciples report that they knew him ‘in the breaking of the bread’ (v. 35) and not by seeing him.” (Ibid.) The “recognition” is not complete, however, until v. 52 – the second last verse in the Gospel – when they “worshiped” him. In the light of this verse, the very last verse of Luke’s Gospel makes eminent sense: “they were continually in the temple blessing God” (v. 53).
Jesus stood among them: The same word is used here – estē, from the verb histēmi meaning “stand” or “stand there” – as John uses in 20:19. Both Luke and John have the greeting of peace and the showing of wounds, though in John it is hands and side, in Luke it is hands and feet. There is something very definite even gently confronting about the statement, followed by the peace greeting, then the showing of the wounds. It may be taken as a proclamation in the face of their – understandable – reluctance to believe what they were experiencing.
In today’s Gospel – Luke 24:35-48 – we read of the appearance of Jesus on the road and the way in which the two disciples recognized him. We have here a paradigm for discipleship as such: Jesus walks with us – even when we do not recognize him – and he is revealed in and through the breaking of the bread. A central teaching of our faith is that the Eucharist is “source and summit” of our lives as individuals and as community. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1324.) This teaching must be held in tension with another central teaching of the Church concerning the Word of God. That teaching is articulated concisely in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), Chapter VI, “Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church”: “In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons and daughters, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life” (#21). There is a life-giving interplay of Word and Sacrament.
We find that interplay in the passage from Luke. Jesus proclaims the Word to both the two on the road and the gathering of disciples – who are listening to the two proclaim that same Word. In the midst of the earlier proclamation to the two, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread. The Liturgy – especially the Eucharist – is a place of encounter with the Risen Lord. The Word – especially when proclaimed in the community – is likewise a place of encounter with the Risen Lord.
A little ritual in the midst of the Eucharistic Liturgy reminds us of this. The one proclaiming the Gospel greets the people: “The Lord be with you!” The people respond: “And with your spirit!” Then the proclaimer turns to the Gospel and makes the sign of the Cross on the Gospel text, saying: “A reading from the Gospel according to …..”. The people, at this point, do not respond to the proclaimer but to the Risen Lord present in the community through the Word: “Glory to you Lord!” They sign themselves with the cross, on the forehead (“Lord open my mind as You opened the minds of the two in Emmaus”), on the lips (“Lord enable me to proclaim your Word as the two did when they returned to Jerusalem”) on the breast (“Lord may my heart be always open to be transformed by your Word”). After the Gospel is proclaimed, the proclaimer announces: “The Gospel of the Lord!” The people respond: “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ!” Then the proclaimer concludes this ritual with a simple prayer: “May the words of the Gospel wipe away our sins!” All of these statements and actions are precious and efficacious. He is with us!