A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 20)
3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A – April 10, 2005
“They Recognized Him in the Breaking of the Bread”
Acts 2:14, 22-33 // I Pet 1:17-21 // Lk 24:13-35
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
Linda Unger’s inspiring article, “Mission Family on the Move” is about the leap of faith made by a young married couple, Doug and Lisa Jo Looney, who hail from the western New York town of Allegany (cf. MARYKNOLL magazine, March 2005, p. 36-38). The desire to serve the poor brought the couple together. Doug and Lisa met while working in a homeless shelter in Boston with the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry. In 1995-1999, they served as Maryknoll lay missioners in Mwanza, Tanzania. Then they returned to New York and started family. They have three children: son Aidan, who is 5, and daughters Nora and Maeve, who are 3 and 18 months, respectively. With the birth of each child, Lisa Jo and Doug reaffirmed their desire to return to mission abroad. One evening, as they sat chatting and looking out the window of their Allegany home, they realized the moment had come. Doug called the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. He felt that the application process was like a homecoming. He remarked, “We wanted the children to be out of diapers when we went back overseas, but didn’t wait long enough for Maeve. She’s a very easygoing child, and that expedited our decision.” They chose Bolivia. According to Doug, “The presence of so many mission families in Bolivia was a strong draw. We feel privileged that our children will know other missioner children.”
Doug and Lisa Jo have now transferred their family of five from upstate New York to the sprawling Bolivian city of Cochabamba. They are helping the little ones adjust to unfamiliar surroundings. Lisa Jo confided, “For the first two weeks all I’ve been doing is holding back tears. In a way, they’re joyful tears: well, here we are, after all these years! But also, they’re tears because we know it’s the first time our children are experiencing this kind of poverty in the world. What are they thinking? What are they feeling?” Indeed, for Lisa Jo and Doug, the decision to return to mission with their children was a leap of faith. Before the Looneys left Allegany, their parish celebrated their missionary calling and presented them with a chalice to take to Bolivia. Lisa Jo mused, “I was thinking of our experience in Africa, how we broke bread and shared the cup and the broken body of Christ. How could we not share that with our children? The God we met in Tanzania is the God we want out children to experience in the people of Bolivia.”
Indeed, in opening their hearts compassionately to the poor and the needy, the Looneys have recognized more intensely the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament of the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. Moreover, their participation in the Eucharistic banquet have deepened their recognition of the presence of Christ in the poor and committed them more strongly to the service of the least brethren. As Christian disciples, the Looneys have been impacted by the meaning of the “breaking of the bread” and challenged by the impelling needs of “the broken body of Christ”. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lisa Jo and Doug have recognized Christ in the “breaking of the bread” and responded in faith to “the broken body of Christ”, concretized in the lives of today’s poor and needy.
The exquisite story of the Easter apparition of the Risen Lord to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus is found only in Luke. The Emmaus story (Lk 24: 13-35) is probably the greatest of the post-Easter accounts of encounter with the Risen Lord. The evangelist Luke depicts the glorified Lord as drawing near in order to journey with the disillusioned disciples who were walking away from the Easter event in Jerusalem. Replete with charm and beauty, the Easter walk to Emmaus was their astounding experience with the Risen Lord who was progressively revealing himself in word and symbolic action. It was a faith journey from delusion to recognition.
Indeed, the journey with the Risen Lord to Emmaus was, for Cleopas and the other disciple, a return journey to the true way of discipleship. On the very day of his resurrection, Jesus was devotedly exercising his pastoral ministry of seeking those who had abandoned the redemptive way of the Suffering Servant. On that eventful Easter day – the first day of the week – when it was nearly evening and the day was almost over, the glorified Lord, who rose like a sun from the clutches of darkness and death, was gently illuminating their eyes, darkened with sadness and blinded by false expectations. According to Luke’s account, when accosted by the remarkable “stranger” on the road, the faces of the distressed disciples were downcast. Something prevented them from recognizing Jesus. However, by “breaking the bread of the word”, that is, by interpreting for them the Scriptures, the Risen Lord was opening their dimmed eyes to see the true meaning of God’s plan. Jesus was enabling his disciples to see the events in Jerusalem with the light of faith. The essence of Jesus’ Easter homily to his disciples was that the Messiah must suffer and die in order to be glorified: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26). Indeed, the death of the Messiah was not a futility or disaster, but rather the marvelous fulfillment of God’s saving plan. Heartened by the insights received from Jesus, who was “breaking the bread of the word” for them with great efficacy and intensity, the disciples were finally perceiving the saving hand of God at work in the events in Jerusalem. The disciples of Emmaus, aglow with love, would later exclaim with Easter excitement: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).
Harold Buetow comments: “How much more satisfied we would feel if only Luke had given us an account of precisely which Scriptures used, and Jesus’ exact comments on them! An educated guess tell us that what Jesus spoke of was the constant scriptural theme that is also the theme of the Easter season: that God reveals himself unceasingly as the One whose characteristic work is to bring life out of death.”
When the companions in the journey approached the place they were going, Jesus gave the impression that he was going farther. But the increasingly responsive disciples urged him: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Lk 24:29). So he went in to stay with them. The biblical scholar, Carroll Stuhlmueller remarked on this episode: “Jesus was not play-acting; he really would have departed. Without him, darkness would have descended.”
The faith journey of the Emmaus disciples reached its climax at the evening meal with their illustrious guest, who presided at table. According to the Gospel account: “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (Lk 24:30-32). The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 3, raised the following questions: “How could these familiar actions act as such a trigger? Did the disciples remember meals taken with Jesus and the solemn manner of performing table rites? Did they remember what he had once done for the crowd “as the day was drawing to a close” (Lk 9:12)? “Then taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said a blessing over them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Lk 9:16). Or did they recall the Passover that Jesus had “eagerly desired to eat” with his apostles before he suffered” (Lk 22:14)?” Although the Gospel does not provide clear answers to these queries, Luke’s account of the supper at Emmaus is very suggestive and evocative.
The action of the “breaking of the bread” with the disciples of Emmaus has a paschal significance. It evokes the last supper scene of Jesus with his disciples when he said: “I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God … Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you; do this as memorial of me’” (Lk 22:15-19). The ritual action of the “breaking of the bread” was the climactic phase of Jesus’ revelatory act to the disciples, already began when he was explaining to them, on the road, the meaning of his suffering and death, in light of the Scriptures. The “breaking of the bread of the word” led to the ultimate recognition of the presence of the glorified Jesus, the Risen Lord, in the “breaking of the bread”, a ritual action that points to the reality of the Passover event, when his broken body was offered on the Cross for the life of the world. In the bread blessed, broken and shared with his disciples, the Risen Lord was affirming his abiding sacramental presence and that God’s saving kingdom has indeed come.
The personal implication of the “breaking of the bread” for Christian disciples can be gleaned from an Easter sermon by a twelfth century author: “God cannot be known except through the breaking of the bread. And in fact, the Lord became our bread and we are his bread … If you want to know him, break yourself as he did, because anyone who claims to abide in Christ ought to live as he lived. The kingdom of God lies not in words, but in power. Break yourself, then, by the labor of obedience, by the humiliation of repentance. Bear in your body the marks of Jesus Christ by accepting the condition of a servant … And when you have emptied yourself, you will know the Lord through the breaking of the bread.”
Finally, with regards to the sacramental-catechetical implication of Jesus’ Easter apparition to the disciples of Emmaus, the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 3, explicate: “The account of Jesus’ manifestation has strong catechetical and liturgical overtones. It evokes the process of Christian initiation, which begins with the explanation of Scripture and culminates in the admission of the newly baptized to the Eucharistic table. At the same time, one can see – if not the actual outline of a celebration – at least its guiding principle. The proclamation and exposition of Scripture leads into the Eucharistic thanksgiving and communion, the summit of the liturgy … The Gospel reading this Sunday highlights the not always clearly perceived link between Word and Eucharist, and the passage from one to the other.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Like the distressed disciple of Emmaus, do we walk away from the mysterious and ineffable paschal events in our life?
B. Are we ready to welcome Jesus as our life-giving companion in our journey to faith? Are we ready to welcome him in the “breaking of the bread of the word” and in the “breaking of the Eucharistic bread”?
C. How do we commit ourselves to the compassionate service of the Risen Lord present in the poor and needy – the “broken body of Christ”?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Commission Francophone Cistercienne, La Nuit, le jour, Paris: Desclee, 1973, 53, Fiche de Chant P LH 123 // Cited by the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 3, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1993, p. 113-114)
Remain with us, Lord Jesus,
you who were the guest at Emmaus;
throughout the watches of the night,
resurrected you lead us.
Taking bread, you broke it,
then our eyes recognized you;
the flickering flame in our heart
foretells our true happiness.
The time is short, our days are fleeting.
But you prepare your house,
you give a meaning to our desires,
a future to our labors.
You the first of the pilgrims,
the star of the last morning,
awake in us by your love
a great hope in your return.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk 24: 35)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Secure a copy of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine, and read meditatively Part II: “The Eucharist, a Mystery of Light”. In this Year of the Eucharist, pray that the Eucharist may be celebrated, worshipped and contemplated more meaningfully, devotedly and worthily. Offer one compassionate act of love and service for the “broken body of Christ”.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may participate more meaningfully in the death and rising of Christ to new life, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 20): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323