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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