Having been a priest for twenty-three years now, I think I have mastered the art of meeting people I have seen before and be able to have a decent conversation without actually remembering their names. People walk up after Mass and remark, “Father, do you remember me?” and I find it quite embarrassing to say, “Urrrrr… not really!” And I would sheepishly move on to any other topic of conversation without having to pursue the point of not remembering.
Sometimes, after the person has left, the name suddenly pops up out of nowhere only to realise it is a little too late. Such an experience can be both embarrassing at times and frustrating on other occasions. Not to worry, this only happens with people I do not see regularly.
Imagine Jesus’ frustration that His disciples did not recognise Him. It had been only a few days and they have forgotten Him so quickly? He had been with them for three years, teaching, eating, and conversing. How is it that just within a short period they failed to recognise Him, their Lord and Master? Well, there could be many reasons as to why they did not recognise Jesus until the breaking of the bread.
Some scholars seem to think that the disciples were “prevented” from recognising Jesus, perhaps partly by their own preoccupation with the disappointment of having lost Jesus and the hopelessness that surrounded them – all their hopes and aspirations dashed by the cross and now, missing from the tomb.
The walk to Emmaus is a fitting conclusion to the gospel of Luke because the author now makes sense of the death and resurrection of Jesus and that all is neither futile or ended. It is on this journey that Jesus gave a lesson to the disciples on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. When Jesus was able to connect the dots for them and culminating with the breaking of bread, ‘their eyes were opened and they recognised Him’. From then on the ‘breaking of bread’ became an integral part of the Church’s life.
Every time we come together to ‘break bread’ at the Holy Mass, Jesus reveals Himself to us in the most profound way. His presence is neither symbolic nor figurative; it is the real presence. But like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we too can quite easily not recognise Jesus. We may be too preoccupied with other things like work, home, studies, and a whole load of other things…. Our bodies may be in Church but the thoughts are elsewhere.
It is worse when we are sitting in Church and grumbling why is it so hot, why is the reader pronouncing badly, why is the homily so boring, why is the choir singing this song, our eyes start wandering noticing the cobwebs on the ceiling, and on and on.
When we fill our minds with all other thoughts and not be fully present to Jesus who is at the centre of the breaking of the bread, we not only fail but also miss the opportunity to recognise Jesus, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In fact, when we gather around the altar of the Lord, Scripture is explained to us and we receive the broken bread, that is, Jesus walking with us on our road to “Emmaus”.
For the gospel to conclude with this story about the disciples meeting the Lord on the road to Emmaus isn’t just a “and they all lived happily ever after” story about Jesus’ resurrection. For the post-resurrection Church (and for us too), this is also a story of how we should be living our lives in the present and opening our eyes to recognise Jesus not only at the breaking of bread but beyond. We must also train ourselves to recognise Jesus in our encounters with one another, in and outside Church, because each of us is a part of the body that is broken for the world. As we have been created in the image and likeness of God, we are all united to that one body, the Risen Christ. Amen.