April 30, 2017
The Second Sunday after Easter
I have to admit, I was having a writers block and decided to take a nap before writing this and I was startled awake with a particular catchphrase on my mind. I’m sure most of you in your lifetimes have heard the catchphrase, “They knew him in the breaking of bread.” And let us keep that thought in mind for a moment
In the book of Genesis we read about that which is inside the Garden of Eden. Inside that Garden grew a tree that was very special amongst all the trees that were in there. There grew the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was the one tree, of which the fruit mankind was not to eat. Yet we know that is exactly what happened; mankind ate of the fruit of the tree of good and evil.
Because of eating of that fruit, we now have sin and death. Through that one tree came the fallen nature of mankind.
Recently, we went through a period of time along with a period of celebration in which we are taken back in time to help us try and witness the death of Jesus Christ. And why did Jesus die? The answer is to bring salvation, and to end sin and death. He came to undo the fall of mankind.
And what did He die on? He died on the cross - cross made of wood - cross that which is a tree. There is a very good reason for that. Because the cross that He dies on, is a second tree. Through the first tree mankind fell. Through the second tree, sin ends, and mankind rises again.
Through a living tree came death. Through a dead tree comes life. The partaking of the first tree we all die. In the partaking of the second tree, we come alive. And as God placed the first tree in the center of the garden, so He placed the second tree in the center of history - the center of the world - so that all can partake of it and find life. And the more you do partake of the tree, the more alive you will become.
And so today we read in the Gospels that two of Jesus’s disciples were walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem. There’s some interesting things about this little story. First, Jerusalem to Emmaus was a seven mile journey. Secondly, only one of the disciples is named – Cleopas. The other is not. In this case, not to be confused with the Apostles.
Let’s talk about the seven mile journey for a second. It seems somewhat strange that they would not recognize Jesus. The gospel says thier eyes were prevented from recognizing Jesus. The gospel doesn’t elaborate how or why this is. But I suspect it’s this.
These two men spoke painfully of the story of Jesus as they walked. It is very obvious that their hearts ache for this loss. They thought that he was going to be the Messiah that would redeem Israel that Scriptures had talked about and that everyone had hoped Jesus was going to be. All their hopes are dashed when Jesus is crucified. And they become even more confused when on the first day the week the tomb is empty.
Jesus joins the two of them, and listens to them explain what they were talking about and discussing. Jesus gently scolds them for not knowing and understanding what the prophets had spoken. It was necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter into his glory.
Jesus was with them, but they still didn’t recognize Him. He was opening the Word to them, and explaining it to them, but they still didn’t recognize. He was risen from the dead, but they still had not experienced it for themselves, so they didn’t believe.
The other mystery is just who are these two disciples? We don’t know for certain. The one called Cleophas, in Catholic and Orthodox traditions, it is believed that Clopas who was believed to be the brother of St. Joseph, is the one and the same as Cleophas. If we read in the Gospel of John 19:25, it says, “But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, in his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”
We do not know for certain that Mary had a sister, and from most accounts that we do have, it would seem that she did not. However, by handed down word of the Apostles, Joseph had a brother named Clopas. And Clopas’ wife was at the cross - hence Mary’s sister-in-law - the sister. So is this disciple the brother of St. Joseph? We do not know, but that’s what Tradition holds. As for the other disciple, there is much speculation, but nothing that’s been held in writing or in Tradition.
So, as they are walking along and they get to their destination, Jesus acts as though he’s going to continue on, but the two disciples invite Him in, and Jesus agrees. They sit down to meal, and in the breaking of bread they recognized who he was. In the moment of the Eucharist, they know the Lord!
It was at that moment they completely forgot about the meal, forgot all about their exhaustion, forgot all about their despair and their fear, and they immediately ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others. And when they arrived there and told them, they say we know! He’s already appeared to some of the women. And for them to believe the women takes a great step of faith, because a women’s word was not taken in that day. But they believe and they run to the tomb, they find it empty, and they believe.
It says that the 11 Apostles tell the two that Jesus had appeared to Simon. Nowhere else in the Gospels is this talked about. The only place of reference, other than this passage, that Jesus appeared to Simon Peter alone, was in I Corinthians 15:5, in which Paul relates that Jesus had appeared to Simon Peter. Strange that it was not told in more detail, but we know that after Simon Peter’s embarrassing rejection of the Lord, he becomes a far more humble man than before, and so the Church has speculated that He did not want it told that Jesus appeared to Peter alone. But, it indeed makes sense, because Jesus told Peter he would be the rock of the Church.
It may seem strange that the two disciples only came to know Jesus in this particular way - in the breaking of bread. Very interesting source of revelation. More vivid than his countenance was his breaking of bread. More penetrating than the scriptures he expounded was his breaking of bread. Or is it strange at all?
How often have they seen Jesus break bread. Jesus had distinguished himself as a hearty and even controversial eater. He brought down the wrath of the religious elite upon himself because of his dietary customs. He ate food with strangers and tax collectors and in violation of the sanctimonious taboos of the day. When He was hungry on the Sabbath, He proceeded to help Himself to the standing but forbidden grain and teach His disciples to do the same. Choosing the celebrated feast rather than the somber fast as the hallmark of His ministry. A forbearing of His commandment on the Eucharist.
From that day until now, Christians have met to hear the Scriptures explained and to know Jesus in the breaking of bread. These two elements are the essence of the Mass. Christians come together and discern the spirit of Jesus and each other. They listen to the word of God in their hearts burn within them as they hear it. In the breaking of bread they recognize Jesus himself actually present, given for them.
The coming together is vital; it is only in the Church that the Mass can take place. And I do not mean necessarily a special church building, although of course that would help. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be on a particular occasion, although that would be desirable also. It means that the Mass is celebrated within the unity of the one Church, and that the celebration is not private, but conscious union with the Church throughout the world. The Mass is when two or more are gathered in His name to celebrate the breaking of bread – the eating of His Body and Blood.
What I feel is missed in so many other Christian denominations is this very essence. Jesus commanded his Apostles to break bread that in memory of Him. We need this. The world needs this. If we can see Him no other way, then we need to see Him in the breaking of bread. We need to see Him in every single human being that walked through these doors and is seeking Jesus Christ.
It has been taught since the time of the Apostles that Jesus did not mean to celebrate the Eucharist in a metaphorical way and thus the Catholic Church has continued through these millennia the teaching that the unleavened bread that we use in the little wafer - in the wine that we use – that they miraculously literally and truly become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not in some sort of bloody cannibalism, but in a divine miraculous way. A way that the eyes and body may deceive, because the little wafer still looks smells and tastes like a wafer; and the wine still looks smells and tastes like wine; but in God’s omnipotent way, and by Jesus’s word, it becomes the literal Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Isn’t amazing that we read in the gospel account that they Apostles and disciples are sad and confused after Jesus’ crucifixion? He gave them the command to celebrate the Eucharist, but they do not understand that they are to see Him in the Eucharist. It is only after all the explaining and showing of Himself that they understand.
And as such, each Sunday, we do not need to be like the two disciples that were downtrodden and running away from Jerusalem. We can be happy disciples, knowing that our God is still present with us each and every day. He is present with us in a tabernacle in every Catholic Church. He is present with us at each Eucharistic celebration. He is present with us in each member of the clergy of the church. And He is even present with each and every one of you in these pews today.
This event on a Sunday in Emmaus need not be an isolated event of revelation. Nor has it been. It has been the testimony of the centuries that not only the devout have recognized him anew, but that also those of the world have come to know him when bread is broken. When bread is broken, Jesus is known in the hands that break the bread. He is known in the hungry who take the bread. He is known in the bread that is broken and taken.
He still calls us today and judges us when we fail to respond. What we lost in the first tree, has been gained by the second. In His name - in His person - we are called to live in His example. It is ours to be the continuing agents of our Lord’s ministry. Through the breaking of bread, and through that second tree, we have the gift of everlasting life and the ability to see Christ each time we come to the table of our Lord.
Let us pray.
Father God, we often times fail to see You in ways we should. Like the two disciples, we get caught up in what, how and where we think You should be, that we lose sight of You in obvious ways and ways You taught You would be present.
Lord, You created the Church that we might have You with us at all times and to be of service to our neighbor, and we fail to see You in them. We have You present in the holy Eucharist, yet we have weak faith and fail to see You there. We have You when we should see You in the imprisoned, the sick, the homeless and the hungry. We should see You in the different race, the refugees, the war-torn, the victims human trafficking and so many more.
Help us, dear Lord, that our eyes, like that of the disciples, to be opened so that we can see You more readily. Help us to see You in those around us – near or far. Most importantly, help us to see You in the holy Eucharist that You instituted and commanded so that we might see You yet we have too small of faith to do so. Your children all over the world long to see You. Give us faith. As the father of the sick boy said to You, help our unbelief! We ask all this through Christ, our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.