It’s quite a funny experience when someone comes up to you and greets you and you haven’t the foggiest notion of who it is. The other person cheerfully addresses you like you’ve known him or her forever. You inwardly scratch your head saying to yourself who is this person? Then the person states something like this, “Boy the last time we saw each other we were still working at the hospital.” Then it hits you; by association of place or circumstance you remember and then (prior to Covid-19) embrace each other.
In the Gospel today the two disciples of Jesus are disheartened and melancholy. They had anticipated that Jesus, the Messiah was the answer to the Jewish nation’s woes. He has been crucified and buried and their hopes are dashed. They are walking home and the two are discussing things, Jesus comes up beside them and they don’t recognize Him.
Jesus jumps into the conversation explaining the Scriptures and how they related to Him yet they still don’t recognize Him, why? His presence is totally out of context. He was known to the disciples in a certain way or circumstance as Rabbi or prophet. Christ presents Himself as a stranger, a person removed from all that has just happened. They are totally incapable of acknowledging Jesus because He is disconnected from the association they had with him before He suffered and died.
When do they recognize Him? They invite Our Lord for supper and then the lights go on. As Jesus breaks the bread and raises it up they get it, and He disappears. The association with Jesus as the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven is made, the connection happens, they realize whom the Messiah the Rabbi truly is: all because of the Eucharist.
The disciples speak to each other about how their hearts burned when Jesus explained the Scriptures. It was a very moving and spiritual experience yet they didn’t recognize Him from the Bible. It was when the Eucharist was presented that they made the connection.
What about us? Do we make the connection with Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Do we realize that the Eucharist that is presented to us at Holy Mass is not merely a symbol.
However when Jesus bids us to eat His body and drink His Blood we are not cannibals. When we eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ, we are not ripping off the skin and sinews and cutting open His skin to suck His blood like a vampire, we are spiritually nourished through the Sacrament. It is His very “Sacramental” presence. This is so because Jesus no longer has a human body in the form that we have at present. His body (and it truly is His body) has been glorified, just as ours will be if we are faithful in this life and enter heaven after we die.
The more important question we must ask ourselves in this time of Covid-19 is, do we long for His presence now that we cannot partake of the Holy Eucharist? Are we missing Mass because at this time we cannot receive Him via the Sacrament?
Coming to Church on Sunday incorporates the sense of community with others who believe yet the true grace, the true privilege in coming to Mass is that we receive Jesus in the most splendid and profound way through His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The readings, the psalm and the Gospel present Christ in certain manner but they pale in significance to His very presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Just as the disciples in the Gospel today were enthralled and mesmerized by Christ preaching the Scriptures it was only through His Sacramental presence at table with the breaking of the bread that made all the difference. It was the endpoint of the entire interaction they had that started on the road with the preaching of Our High Priest Jesus.
This is the journey we take at Mass every week starting with the Word of God through the Scriptures that ends with the Holy Eucharist, Jesus Himself present to us all. Just as Jesus slowly guided the disciples to Himself, so the Mass guides us to Him today.
Let us never shortchange the impact of Christ’s presence at Mass. There is no substitute, there is no replacement, and there is no other element (even if it is spiritual in nature) that compares or is equal to Our Lord’s very presence. It is that presence we should desire and long for in these difficult days. It the greatest gift given us this side of heaven.