At the beginning of the Gospel passage I just read, we heard,
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
Let me explain what that refers to.
The day Jesus rose from the dead—the first Easter Sunday—
two of his disciples were walking from Jerusalem
to a nearby town called Emmaus.
Jesus met them as they walked along,
but they didn’t recognize him at first.
I think it’s pretty clear Jesus did this on purpose,
for a reason that will become clear in a moment.
As they walked, they talked to him as if he were a stranger;
and they told him about the crucifixion
and the stories of resurrection—
which, it appears, they are hesitant about.
Then the Lord Jesus—again, while they still think he’s just a visitor—
explains how all that happened was foreshadowed in the Scriptures.
As they reach their destination,
the two disciples invite the visitor to stay with them,
and as they sit down to eat,
Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.
And it is at that instant their “eyes were opened,
and they recognized him”—in the breaking of the bread.
Then these two rush back to Jerusalem,
where they find the Apostles—and they tell them what happened.
And then Jesus appears in their midst—and what we heard follows.
I said a moment ago that the Lord Jesus had a purpose in all this.
Here’s what I think it is:
Jesus was showing them how important the Eucharist would be.
Let me ask a question: haven’t you ever wondered
what was going on with the followers of Jesus between the day of Resurrection
and the day Jesus ascended to heaven?
For all the information the Gospels give us
about Jesus’ teaching, his miracles, his death and resurrection,
they say very little about the 40 days after he rose from the dead.
I think what was happening was that they were making sense of it all,
especially after the shock of his death.
And after they started sorting this out, then what?
The Eucharist, that’s what.
They remembered the miracles of the loaves,
in which so many had been fed—
and there were twelve baskets’ full left over. A light went on.
This is when they began to realize what Jesus meant
when he said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of Me.”
Do you want to see Jesus? Is there any Christian who wouldn’t say yes?
Don’t we all long to see him?
We do see him! He is made known to us “in the breaking of bread.”
In the Holy Mass. In the Holy Eucharist.
This is why the Holy Mass is so important.
Now, there’s a question many of us wrestle with.
We say that the bread and wine become Jesus—
his body, blood, soul and divinity.
And yet, at the same time,
we admit that the taste, the appearance,
and the chemical properties don’t change.
So let’s acknowledge the question easily comes to mind:
why should we believe that the Eucharist
is really anything more than merely wine and bread?
Why not just agree with those who say,
it’s only a symbol, but it’s not really Jesus himself.
Let me offer three answers to that.
First, the reason we believe the bread and wine aren’t just symbolic,
but they really become Jesus, is because that’s what he said.
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John—
which we’ll hear at Mass in August—he said, over and over:
“eat my flesh, and drink my blood”,
for “my flesh is real food, and my blood, real drink.”
And, on the night before he died, he took bread, and took wine,
and said, “this is my body”; “this is my blood.”
Second, this is clearly what Saint Paul believed and taught,
as is clear from what he wrote about the Eucharist.
And it’s what the early Christians believed.
They were very explicit on this point—
so much so, that pagans accused them of “cannibalism.”
But let me approach this in a third way.
Try to think about this from God’s point of view.
This is your plan: you’re going to come to earth as a man,
suffer and die for the rest of humanity, and rise again.
And, based on the rituals of sacrifice, and the Passover,
from the Old Testament,
give the faithful a new rite: the Eucharist.
If this is what you are going to do –
and you want people to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” –
tell me, just how would you do it?
I don’t mean to be gross, but—
would you do something involving real flesh and blood?
That would be repulsive.
OK then, so what do you do?
Just tell people, here, eat bread. Drink wine?
OK, so we do that. But the question remains:
how do bread and wine save us?
Even if you give me the best bread and wine,
if that’s all they are, so what?
I don’t want to be united forever with bread and wine.
Do you? Does anyone?
But I do want to be united forever with Jesus.
That’s what he promised. That’s what the Eucharist is!
So it seems to me Jesus hit upon the perfect solution.
It’s his Body and Blood—it’s really him;
but, in a manner that is human and approachable.
The Eucharist reminds us that Jesus didn’t just come to be a teacher.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that.
Oh, he was such an admirable teacher.
Well, that’s true. But it’s weak tea.
They didn’t crucify him because he was a teacher.
God didn’t need to become human in order to teach us.
He sent Moses. He sent the prophets. They did just fine as teachers.
God became human to be one of us.
And then, as one of us, he suffered and died with and for us.
And to come back to what I said a moment ago:
the point was that we would be one with God—forever.
Look, if you’re a student in our school, you listen to the teachers;
you learn from them; you may even want to imitate them.
But who says you have to become “one” with them?
God became man so that men could become God. That’s what it’s about.
I’ll say it again: God became man so that men could become God!
Not “become God” in the way only God can be God—
but “become God” in the sense of being sharers
in all that God is and has.
That’s why we have the Mass—and that’s why we need the Eucharist!
As Saint Augustine explained, when we feed upon Christ,
unlike all other food, the Eucharist does not change into us—
but rather, Christ says, “you shall be converted into me.”