On Resurrection Day, almost two thousand years ago, two disciples were transformed by their experience of the risen Messiah at a table in Emmaus.
While walking to Emmaus, they heard the story of a Messiah who must first suffer and then enter glory. The stranger who walked with them expounded Scripture, and their hearts burned as they saw the story of God in new ways. As the Scriptures were opened, so were their hearts.
At a table in Emmaus, on that resurrection day, the risen Messiah was “made known” to these disciples “in the breaking of the bread.” We know from reading Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7, 11) “the breaking of bread” continued as an ongoing table experience among the followers of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.
What happened in the “breaking of the bread?” What continues to happen “in the breaking of the bread?”
The living Messiah is “made known” within the community of disciples. When disciples of Jesus are gathered around the table, Jesus is present, and—more than present—Jesus is revealed.
Jesus said as much earlier in Luke:
- “This is my body” and
- “This cup…is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-20).
Of course, the problem is the meaning of “is”? It depends on what the meaning of “is” is, right?
Paul expands the “is” in 1 Corinthians 10:16: “is it [the breaking of the bread] not a sharing in the body of Christ” or “is it [the cup] not a sharing in the blood of Christ?” When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we participate, share in the blessing of, and commune with the one who gave himself for us. We share in the benefits of God’s work in Christ; we experience the reality the body and blood of Jesus effects. We experience peace with God, and at the table we are not only assured of God’s grace but God also gives grace there.
Luke also provides his own explanation in Luke 24:35. At the table, the living Jesus is “revealed” or “made known.”
What exactly does that mean? I think the Eastern Orthodox theologian Schmemann illuminates this a bit (For the Life of the World, 142).
In the early tradition, and this is of paramount importance, the relationship between the sign in the symbol (A) and that which it signifies (B) is neither a merely semantic one (A means B), nor causal (A is the cause of B), nor representative (A represents B). We called this relationship an epiphany. “A is B” means that the whole of A expresses, communicates, reveals, manifests the reality of B (although not necessarily the whole of it) without, however, losing its own ontological reality, without being dissolved in another “res” [another “thing,” JMH]. But it was precisely this relationship between the A and the B, between the sign and the signified, that was changed. Because of the reduction of knowledge to rational or discursive knowledge there appears between A and B a hiatus. The symbol may still be means of knowledge but, as all knowledge, it is knowledge about and knowledge of. It can be a revelation about “res” but not the epiphany of the “res” itself. A can mean B, or represent it, or even in certain instances, be the “cause” of its presence; but A is no longer viewed as the very means of “participation” in B. Knowledge and participation are now two different realities, two different orders.
The bread and wine (the signs) remain bread and wine—their nature as bread and wine does not change. The relationship between the sign (bread and wine) and the thing signified (body and blood) is not merely symbolic or representative, but neither is it a change of nature or ontology (such that the bread becomes the body or the wine becomes the blood as different substance so that the bread and wine are annihilated).
Instead, the bread and wine become a means by which the living Christ is revealed. It is an “epiphany,” which “expresses, communicates, reveals, [and] manifests the reality” of the living Christ in the midst of the community. The table becomes more than a cognitive remembrance where we learn something about Christ. The table becomes a means by which we experience the living Christ and participate in the reality of the new creation, inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus.
At the table, Jesus reveals the future, we remember the future, and we experience the future. The table is an “ephipany”—we see the future! Death will not win; Christ has already won!
On Easter Sunday, like Resurrection Day itself, disciples all around the world gather around a table, and there the living Christ is “made known.” We not only learn about Christ, we experience Christ. We not only learn about the new creation inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, we taste it!
O Happy Day—the day God announced the future of the world through the resurrection of Jesus.
O Happy Day—the day we gather at the table to taste that future!
Blessed be the name of the Lord, who did not leave us in the dust of death but has given us new life through Jesus, who is our life.