for the third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 22b-33 - 1 Pt 1:17-21 - Lk 24:13-35
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen
The Breaking of the Bread
Acts 2:14, 22b-33
Acts 2:14, Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, «Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 22, Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know -- 23, this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24, But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25, For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26, therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope. 27, For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. 28, Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence." 29, Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30, Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32, This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33, Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.»
1 Pt 1:17-21
1 Pt 1:17, If you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 18, You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20, He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. 21, Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Lk 24:13, That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15, While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16, But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17, And he said to them, «What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?» And they stood still, looking sad. 18, Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, «Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?» 19, And he said to them, «What things?» And they said to him, «Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21, But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 22, Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 23, and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24, Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.» 25, And he said to them, «O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26, Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?» 27, And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 28, So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 29, but they constrained him, saying, «Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.» So he went in to stay with them. 30, When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31, And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32, They said to each other, «Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?» 33, And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34, who said, «The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!» 35, Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This Sunday's gospel is well known: it concerns the meeting of Jesus and the disciples of Emmaus. And yet, instead of commenting on all three liturgical readings, as is my custom in this cycle of homilies, I will limit myself to this passage from the New Testament. Besides, does this gospel not make reference to the Old Testament? How could Jesus talk about himself with the help of scriptural texts if he did not make use of passages from the Old Testament? Moreover, as I said last Sunday, the rite of the breaking of the bread, evoked by the evangelist Saint Luke, is it not a custom of Jewish origin? And so discussing this gospel will plunge us into the heart of our origins: the Old Testament.
Christianity is not Judaism; nor is it a continuation of Judaism. Nor does it want to substitute itself for Judaism. But, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Apostles following his example, took from Judaism what was to be preserved, adapted it, and added to it all that was proper to the New Covenant. One Jewish custom preserved by Christianity, a custom I have already discussed at length, liturgically and theologically, in one of my works:
is the Breaking of the Bread: "Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." (Lk 24:35)
The breaking of the bread is a gesture to which Jewish custom had given a religious, almost mystical sense. When, on certain occasions, the family gets together to eat, the father of the family blesses the meal and shares the bread, breaking it with his fingers, in order to give a piece of it to each person at the table, as a sign of fraternal communion. Notably, this is the case at the Passover meal. It is what Jesus did at the Last Supper, sharing his Body present under the appearance of the bread: "He took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, «This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.»" (Lk 22:19)
In the earliest days of Christianity, when the pagans confused the Christians with the members of the Jewish community, it was necessary to act with prudence towards both the Jews and the pagans. Not all Christians were called to be martyrs. The survival of the Church required a law of secrecy, a law of the arcane, in order to hide and protect the Holy Mysteries entrusted by the Lord himself: in particular, the Holy Mysteries properly speaking, that is to say the Eucharist. Jesus himself had warned his disciples: "Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine." (Matt 7:6) And: "Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matt 10:16)
So we can easily understand why Saint Luke speaks of the Eucharistic celebration as the "breaking of the bread" (Acts 2:42 and 46). To the eyes of the uninitiated, the Eucharistic Mystery could very well be taken for a simple Jewish custom, inserted into or included in a great prayer of thanksgiving: the Eucharistic Prayer.
In this sense, the Breaking of the Bread is an action that would lead one to not know who or what is the Bread of Life, that is to say Jesus-Eucharist. Moreover, the gesture itself of breaking the Bread of Life leads the mind to think, wrongly it is true, that the Bread of Life is in a way destroyed, and has become nonexistent. Let us recall the following stanzas of the Lauda Sion, in which the author, who is believed to be Saint Thomas Aquinas, tries to reassure the believer when the latter sees the Bread of Life broken or torn: "Fracto demum sacramento, Ne vacilles, sed memento Tantum esse sub fragmento, Quantum toto tegitur. Nulla rei fit scissura : Signi tantum fit fractura, Qua nec status, nec statura Signati minuitur." (If we divide the holy Host, do not hesitate, but remember that he is in each fragment just as much as he is in the whole. The divine Body is not broken: only the sign is broken, but neither the state nor the greatness of the reality signified is diminished.)
Of course, the Breaking of the Bread does not harm the Body of Christ. But the exterior, apparent sign might lead us to believe that it does. This amounts to saying that, understood as a custom of Jewish origin, the Breaking of the Bread leads to a non-recognition, or to an ignorance of the Eucharistic reality: to observe the law of the arcane and to protect the Holy Mysteries, the Bread of Life is, under the Jewish custom of the Breaking of the Bread, as it were veiled and hidden, it is unrecognized or unknown. But thanks to the Spirit of God, all who are initiates, that is to say all who are true disciples of Christ, like the pilgrims of Emmaus after their conversion, recognize the presence of Christ, the Bread of Life, despite, and through, the rite of the Breaking of the Bread: "When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him..." (Lk 24:30-31)
Let us ask the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who was present at the Last Supper, to help us to recognize, to an ever greater extent, her Divine Son, in order to for us love him with a limitless love!