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The Road To Emmaus And The Eucharist

the road to emmaus is symbolic of the eucharist

This week the Orthodox Church reads the account of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. I’ve listened to many sermons on this topic over the years. But I only understood it after I became an Orthodox Christian.

In Luke’s gospel, two of Jesus’ disciples journey to Emmaus, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Along the way they discuss the events surrounding Jesus’ death. These are broken men who put their hopes in someone they hoped would be the savior of Israel. His humiliating death crushed their hopes and ended their revolution before it began.

Or so they think.

Now comes the news that His body is missing. Some of the women in their group of followers went to His tomb, and found it empty. What could this mean? Did someone steal His body? Can there be no end to this man’s humiliation at the hands of the authorities?

As they continue on the road to Emmaus, another traveler joins them. He asks the men why they are sad, and they respond with surprise. Is this man the only person in Jerusalem that has not heard of Jesus and what happened to Him?

The men explain with some exasperation all that has happened. Their new companion rebukes the disciples for forgetting the words of all the prophets who told of His coming.

“Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” the man says to them. He goes on to explain the words of the prophets concerning the coming of the Christ.

When the trio arrive at Emmaus, the two disciples invite their traveling companion to stay and eat with them. It is here that the stranger reveals His identity through a miracle:

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.   – Luke 24:30-31

The stunned disciples immediately rush back to Jerusalem where they find the other followers of Christ. They hear the news that Jesus has appeared to Peter, and recount their own story. Jesus appeared to them, they say. He was known to them, Luke recounts, in the breaking of the bread.

My Own Road to Emmaus

The sacrament Jesus instituted in the upper room with His disciples was not a memorial or a symbolic act. We know Him through the breading of bread, because it is His body, which is broken for the world.

I didn’t understand this as a Protestant, because we shared bread and grape juice only as a remembrance. But for over 2,000 years the Church has understood the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ.

The disciples experienced the Divine Liturgy on the road to Emmaus. Christ first delivered the Liturgy of the Word by explaining the Scriptures. He later gave them the Liturgy of the Eucharist through the breaking of bread.

In the way that Jesus revealed himself to those disciples through the breaking of the bread, it is through a true understanding of the Eucharist that Christ reveals Himself to us.


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Comments 7

  1. It would be helpful to write more about this expression, “took bread, blessed it and broke it.’ The words aren’t explicit enough for non-Eucharistic people. There are Protestants, such as Lutherans and Church of England, whose interpretation somewhat resembles what Orthodox believe but among themselves there is diversity of interpretation. If the expression is shown in other early Christian literature to mean the Eucharist, then the connection is more easily made. Otherwise, it seems in the New Testament to be the way of starting a traditional Jewish meal.

    Of course, Orthodox accept what we’ve been taught. We know that “Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” means that this wasn’t an ordinary hunger-satisfying meal, but it isn’t obvious enough to counter centuries of Catholic-averse teaching.

    I just now read in an article, “Breaking of the Bread A Jewish Understanding,” at a Messianic Jewish website, “Grafted in Ministries,” the following.

    “With the advent of Christianity in the fourth century CE, a “Communion” ritual was introduced as part of Christian worship. This ritual involved the reconstructing of the ‘sacrifice of Christ’, where the worshipers partook of bread and wine, which represented the body and blood of their god.”

    It sounds peculiar, doesn’t it? These people believe that Rome rejected everything Jewish and borrowed from pagan mystery cults to create a new practice.

    So, what can we offer from early non-canonical writings to show that this statement is false?

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      The former Baptist in me wants to give you proof texts and citations from the Fathers, in order to lay out a compelling apologetic. Otherwise, how can we convince the Protestants of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

      Then I thought about what convinced me the Eucharist was the true body and blood of Christ. What exposition or lecture allowed me to give intellectual assent to this Truth?

      I remembered the words of Jesus to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

      I am in no way putting myself in the place of Peter. My point is that Orthodoxy must be lived to be fully understood. No amount of reading can possibly convince someone that the bread the disciples received at Emmaus – never mind the bread we consume in every Divine Liturgy – is truly the precious body of Christ. This is something that is revealed by the Holy Spirit through Holy Tradition.

      As you said, “The words aren’t explicit enough for non-Eucharistic people.” To that I would offer perhaps the most explicit, plain-language explanation of the Eucharist ever given. It is from Christ Himself:

      “”Take and eat; this is my body.”

  2. Tony, I agree with everything that you say. However, my oldest brother is a Calvary Chapel sort of a person and he would not be convinced by anyone that suggested this. He argues for the “plain sense” and reasonableness of what Scripture teaches and uses the positive changes in his own life as proof that Jesus Christ is his savior. In fact, we had a discussion about this the other day.

    The world of proof-texts is its own proof-text, I suppose. When I was an Evangelical, I accepted the variety of versions of the Protestant world as a fact and figured, “What’s the point of arguing?” In my Greek class at Fuller I sat between two Baptists that would discuss very fine Premil points during our long break. They were Baptists but they had slight differences of opinion. In the same class there were at least two Charismatics but we all got along. No one wanted to make an issue about anything there.

    When I was reading Timothy Ware’s “The Orthodox Church,” I got to thinking about what the early Christians apparently believed and practiced and compared that with what my church did. “What should I do with this contradiction?” I wondered. Eventually, I was chrismated. Those that think in proof-text terms don’t seem to appreciate what the Christians did way, way back. Perhaps St. Philip’s “Come and see” is a very good approach.

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      Ultimately, that is the only approach that is going to work. So much of the particulars of American history are fused into Evangelical Christianity that the two are almost indistinct. It almost becomes impossible to comprehend that the point of Scripture is not to promote American exceptionalism.

      And yet, there are practices of the Church that go back millennia, and were practiced by all Christians. Understanding the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ is not an innovation, and it is not a perversion. It is the common understanding of all of Christendom for over 1,000 years.

      I recently had someone else ask me what to say to a Protestant who wanted proof that the Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist is the correct one. My response was that the Protestant “symbolic” version of the bread and wine were the innovation. Therefore the burden of proof was on them.

  3. “The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox” by Johanna Manley has St. Ignatius’s command to the Smyranaenas, “You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father” in the commentary for today’s Acts 2:38-43 reading.

    I met someone that became almost apoplectic at the mention of bishops in the Early Church. The letters that St. Ignatius wrote during his trip to Rome confirm that things such as bishops did exist at that time. Too bad the Apostolic Fathers are not more widely read for the purpose of comparing faith and practice then with what is common now.

    I wonder if there is a catalog of things, such as the Eucharist and bishops that many non-ancient Church refuse to accept.

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      Sometimes I think more than a few Protestants think Jesus was from a little town in Kansas.

      When someone gets upset at the notion of bishops, I would remind them that the ancient Church did not speak English, and that the Greek word “episcopos” from which “bishop” is derived means overseer. Surely they think it’s okay that the church has a leader?

      1. Yesterday I was on the phone with one of our deacons and the subject turned to when Judas was replaced. Deacon Charlie wanted to know what the Greek word was and I went to a site where there is the Greek and then about a dozen different renderings in English. There was the word, “episkopen,” I think it was. Accusative, singular, right?

        Sometimes “overseer” was used. “Office,” “supervision” and “bishop” were there as well. I bet there are more varieties of Scripture in English than in any other languages.

        Next time you are with friends that are devoted to the King James, ask them which version the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World. It was the Geneva Bible. You might win a few bets with that.

        Of course, there are Orthodox that regard the King James New Testament as the best translation.

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