By Andrea Slaven
As I reflect on what the Eucharist means to me, I am immediately drawn to one of my favorite Gospel readings in which Luke explicitly makes it clear how Christ comes to us in each Eucharistic celebration. This short reading is filled with such a powerful image of the Mass. In this story (Luke 24:13-33), two disciples begin their journey from Jerusalem to travel to Emmaus. They walk with sadness, hopelessness and disillusionment as their Savior was put to death on the Cross. During their journey they encounter the Risen Jesus, but they don’t recognize him. Jesus walks with them and listens. Then, he shares Scriptures with them, beginning with Moses and the prophets, and how the Scriptures were fulfilled in his death and resurrection. Still not recognizing him, but enjoying his presence and their conversation, they invite him to stay with them. It is, however, when Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks the bread and begins to give it to them, that they immediately recognize him, but he disappears from their sight. Jesus purposely reveals himself to the disciples through the breaking of the bread.
Whenever we participate in the Eucharist, we take a similar journey. Each of us comes to Mass with our own stories. It may be that we have the stresses of work, the hectic life of family, or maybe the sadness of loss. We bring our sinfulness, our brokenness and our disillusionments. We may not always recognize that Jesus is with us. Pope Francis, however, reminds us: “Jesus is the Risen Traveler that travels with us. He is here among us. He is here in his Word, here on the altar, journeying with us” (General Audience, May 4, 2014). Jesus is with us on our life’s pilgrimage just as he was with the disciples. We, too, can hear his voice during the Liturgy of the Word as the Scripture is proclaimed.
But it is especially when the celebrant says “He took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you,’” that I am with the early disciples. My eyes open to seeing Christ in the Eucharist just as the disciples did. Jesus is here! Present to me! Present to each and every one of the people surrounding me! This is my “Emmaus moment.” My longing to receive Jesus in the Eucharist becomes overwhelming.
The Emmaus journey becomes real to me as I walk toward the altar. I bring my broken self to Christ whose mercy and love is unfathomable and reach out to receive this gift. As I return to my place in the pew, I am attuned to seeing all God’s people taking the same journey toward the altar. I watch and pray with each person, sometimes knowing their stories, other times wondering what is on their hearts. Each person on the journey comes to receive the same Body of Christ, to receive our Savior in the most life-giving staple, bread. “I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus says (John 6:35). It is in this moment that I recall the words of St. Augustine, “Behold who you are, become what you receive!” As we consume the Body of Christ, we share in becoming the Body of Christ present in the world.
The Emmaus story does not end with the breaking of the bread. The disciples go back to Jerusalem to proclaim the Good News. We too are commissioned to go out as the Body of Christ to proclaim the Good News to others. Strengthened by the Word and the Eucharist our pilgrimage continues.
Luke’s account of the Emmaus experience is more than just a story. It is a reminder of how we encounter the presence of Jesus Christ and respond to our call to witness Christ in the lives of his people today. As we begin the National Eucharistic Revival, I pray that we as a diocese enter into an Emmaus journey together.
May your Emmaus journey allow your eyes to be opened more fully to recognize Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and in each other.
Editor’s note: Andrea Slaven is Director of the diocesan Office of Catechesis.