As St. Luke tells the story, the disciples have precious little time with the risen Jesus. They encounter the empty tomb. Shortly thereafter, as we hear this morning, a couple of other disciples encounter a stranger on the road to Emmaus who speaks to them for several hours; only in “the breaking of the bread” do they at last recognize their beloved rabbi, Jesus. And he at once disappears again.
The disciples in Jerusalem hear of this incident, and they have only begun to discuss it when Jesus appears to them suddenly again. In that brief scene, which immediately follows our Gospel passage from this morning, he accomplishes two primary things: one, he eats something to show that he is not a ghost; two, he briefly enlightens them about the scriptures concerning himself. And then he is gone. The next scene in Luke is the Ascension, and from there, Luke moves quickly to Acts and the events following Pentecost.
Luke is of course concerned with establishing the truth of the Resurrection, which is why in one of these scenes he shows Jesus eating normal food. He’s not a ghost, in other words, despite the strangeness of these appearances. And yet in another way, Luke is less interested in the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus than he is in the effect that those experiences have on the disciples. In both the Emmaus incident and the scene with the fish, we can observe what the disciples experience partly by observing what they do not experience. There’s not the kind of high-fiving and congratulating and celebrating that we might expect from the return of someone once lost; there is rather a kind of pregnant, awkward silence, which is broken not by the sudden resumption of the story from where it stopped, but instead by the revelation of something totally new.
In other words, Jesus didn’t just pick up where he left off before his death. These scenes make that clear. He has two goals: (1) to convince the disciples that he is alive, and (2) to “open their minds to the scriptures.”
Perhaps it makes sense that Luke, who is also the writer of Acts, would show Jesus giving the disciples the tools they need to keep going, the tools they need to continue following him as they wait for the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. They need the confidence to follow him even when he is no longer visible—thus the strong emphasis on Jesus’ true bodily resurrection. But they also need the imaginative capacity to understand and continue what he has been teaching them. They need the wisdom to come to grips with who Jesus really was and is—and so Jesus “opens their minds to the scriptures,” meaning he helps them understand that he himself is the hinge on which all the Old Testament turns.
Up to this point, maybe some of them still thought of Jesus as an exceptionally brilliant rabbi who offered new and interesting interpretations of the Torah. But now it becomes clear to them that he is, in a tangible way, the embodiment of their tradition and their scriptures. “The Word was made flesh,” as St. John puts it elsewhere, “and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.”
What were for the disciples two separate themes—Jesus’ new life and his presence in the scriptures—might be simplified, both for them and for us, into a single truth: that Jesus is available. It’s not just that he’s alive, somewhere over there, or up there, or in theory; he is available to us, wherever we are, and this availability is summarized by the dual content of all these stories in Luke. The disciples beheld him, in the scriptures and in the breaking of bread.
Thus the Divine Worship collect from Easter Monday prays, “O God, whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open, we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works.” Rephrased a bit, in order to see God’s redeeming work, we need the eyes of faith.
How, though, do these eyes work? What exactly are the eyes of faith?
In his poem “The Half-Way House,” Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of his difficulty in meeting Love (capital L) on earth. (The “half-way house” is also probably a reference to J.H. Newman’s description of Anglicanism as the “half-way house” to Catholicism and liberalism as the “half-way house” to atheism. Hopkins was a convert to Catholicism from high church Anglicanism, and this conversion was influenced especially by convictions about the Real Presence.) “It grows darker here and Thou art above,” he writes. He seeks, therefore, a kind of half-way house between earth and heaven, which he describes in this final stanza:
Hear yet my paradox: Love, when all is given,
To see Thee I must see Thee, to love, love;
I must o’ertake Thee at once and under heaven
If I shall overtake Thee at last above.
You have your wish; enter these walls, one said:
He is with you in the breaking of the bread.
The “paradox” for Hopkins is that to see Christ in heaven, he must see him on earth. “I must o’ertake Thee at once and under heaven / If I shall overtake Thee at last above.” It is no secret that this poem reflects for Hopkins the centrality of the Blessed Sacrament for the life of faith. It is only by seeing Christ hidden here, under the appearance of bread and wine, that we have any hope of seeing him above.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in the last lines of his most famous hymn on the Eucharist (Pange lingua / Tantum ergo), writes,
Therefore we, before him bending,
this great Sacrament revere;
types and shadows have their ending,
for the newer rite is here;
faith, our outward sense befriending,
makes our inward vision clear.
Here we find that theme again: the eyes of faith—inward vision. “Faith, our outward sense befriending, makes our inward vision clear.” Whatever the eyes of faith are, they are not external, but internal eyes; we speak of vision that is spiritual or intellectual, not physical. Even in the strongest Catholic description of the Eucharist, transubstantiation, the change of substance is invisible.
It is easy for people today to mock the medieval Catholic view as the product of ignorance and superstition, as if the poor common folks were too dumb to look at what was plainly in front of them. But the Real Presence has always been a spiritual doctrine, one that demands the movement from the eyes of the body to the eyes of faith. And Hopkins has the right of it: if we cannot discern the Lord of Love’s presence here, in this place where he has promised to be, dare we hope to find it elsewhere? We can say the same for Scripture, which, in Luke, at least, goes right alongside the “breaking of bread.” Discerning the presence of Jesus in Scripture is likewise difficult, especially when we read the harder parts of the Old Testament. But learning to do so is necessary if we hope to discern his presence in our lives now and in the world to come.
What are these eyes of faith? To walk with the eyes of faith is to walk with trust and confidence in the Lord. The eyes of faith are not blind. That is a misconstrual of biblical faith. We do not trust Jesus for no reason; we trust him because his life, death, and resurrection have demonstrated his trustworthiness. But our trust in him must influence what follows in our life together. We can trust that when he promises his presence, his availability, his life, he means what he says. We can in fact meet him in Scripture and the breaking of bread. But for most of us it is unlikely that we will do so unless we expect it.
There is probably a psychological truth there, but it is all the same a spiritual truth from the New Testament: God does not thrust himself upon us unwillingly; he is there, like the sun, whether we like it or not, but to see him, we must open our inner eyes. These eyes find their focus only when properly attuned to the lenses of faith, hope, and love. Trust, expectation, affection. These lenses are first given by the Spirit, but we can train ourselves to use them more fully with that same Spirit’s help.
Do you know Jesus? Do you discern his presence here, in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Scriptures, and in his body the Church? May we all seek him with all our hearts, because he wants to be found. Our Lord waits patiently. But he will not wait forever.