“When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:31,32 NRSV
When stories are so familiar, the temptation is not to listen carefully. We become careless in our hearing. We are certain we know how the story goes and often miss obvious parts. I was guilty of this as I was first reading last week’s lectionary reading, Luke’s account of Jesus travelling to Emmaus on the day of resurrection.
I had heard over and over how the disciples had recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Yet, it had never sunk in that these two had not been at the Last Supper. Matthew and Mark state explicitly that the twelve were the friends who Jesus shared that meal with. Luke doesn’t use the number, but refers to the apostles, (who actually qualified as apostles is a much bigger question than this post is willing to take on), which would make the twelve a reasonable inference.
So, if they hadn’t been at the Last Supper, why would they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread? Was it simply that they had eaten with Jesus so often that such a homely ritual was ingrained in their minds? Quite possibly. However, maybe there was another meal that they suddenly remembered.
A Different Breaking of Bread
One problem with last Sunday’s lectionary choice is that it doesn’t complete the story. After Jesus disappears, Luke continues the story with the two disciples heading to Jerusalem. It should be noted that their departure is immediate. They don`t even bother to finish the meal. On arrival they tell those gathered what had happened. Luke repeats the fact that Jesus was made known in the breaking of the bread. This repetition tells us that the breaking of the bread is a central detail in the account.
As they do this Jesus appears in their midst. They are terrified, Jesus offers them words of encouragement in their fear. Then he asks if they have any fish. He takes the fish and eats it.
Bread and fish. Now we have a different picture. Luke is drawing our attention to a meal. A different meal. One with many more participants. In chapter 9 of Luke we have his account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. In that case also, Jesus blesses and breaks bread(along with the fish). Everyone is fed and there are twelve baskets of leftovers.
Further to that, Luke places Peter’s acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah of God immediately after this miracle. This links well with the journey to Emmaus. They describe Jesus as a “prophet mighty in word and deed.” Yet they hoped he would be more. They hoped that Jesus would be “the one to redeem Israel.”
At the risk of veering to far into speculation, I`d like to suggest that the Emmaus encounter in Luke serves much the same purpose as the Thomas encounter in John. If Thomas is the hard-nosed realist that he is sometimes portrayed as, then these two disciples are every bit as realistic in their assessment of what has happened to Jesus.
Eastertide invites us back into the wonder of those first resurrection appearances. “When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…”