To understand the Eucharist we need to go to one of my favourite passages from the Gospels, the journey of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in Luke 24.
You know the story very well.
While the two are walking along they encounter a stranger (who we know is Jesus). But what captures me, what captivates me, is the request they finally make of Jesus, at the end of their time with him.
“Remain with us,” they say.
Now up and down the New Testament if you’ve heard a request given to Jesus you know one thing. He doesn’t just answer the request; he doesn’t just give you exactly what you have asked for, no he bubbles over for you.
What it basically means is that when you ask God of something; when you make a request of God, He gives you more than you can handle. He gives you an abundance. He gives you up unto the everlasting.
The Woman at the Well
Think of the woman of Samaria for example. She is at the well simply drawing water, and Jesus who she encounters, makes a strange statement: “if you knew who it was who was asking for a drink then you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
Now that’s interesting for two reasons. The first is because ‘living water,’ moving water, is much desired in the time and place where Jesus encounters her. But second, and more important still is that ‘living water’ is a symbol in the New Testament for life everlasting but in particular the Holy Spirit. (See for example Jeremiah 17:13, Zechariah 14:8)
The Wedding at Cana
Think of another one, think of the wedding at Cana.
At the wedding at Cana, Mary makes a request disguised as a statement: “They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)
And what does Jesus do? Does he take a head-count of how many want their cups filled? Does he ask, ‘are you almost there, are you almost full?’ No. He just makes so much more than expected.
This is what he does. He fills up your cup and he let’s it bubble over. It is just as that medieval maxim says: Love is diffusive of itself. It gives and gives and gives; why because it has to? No, because that is what love does.
And so we see here in Luke 24 this request, stay with us, and it makes sense from their perspective. It is getting dark, stay with us. But I think from God’s perspective it is exactly the kind of request He has been waiting for since the beginning.
Now why do I say that? Well sure Jesus goes inside and he remains with them. He goes to table and breaks bread. But is it possible that Jesus finds a way to remain with them for much longer?
I think so. And this is what caught me.
We have this simple literary technique that we use all the time and have been using for as long as we know, it is called juxtaposition.
If I want you to make a close association of two things I hold them up side by side and I say, ‘look, when you see this there’s the other thing.’ It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dog. Ring the bell, put out food, the dog salivates. Do it enough times and you can ring the bell without the presence of food and the dog will still salivate.
Now look at what Jesus is doing here. When you see the bread and you see me…when you see the bread and you see me… Well, once you get the association Jesus can disappear from our sight. You see, that’s it, that’s the key.
And that’s exactly what happens in Emmaus. They sit down at table with him, their hearts start to burn, and when they get it, he dissappears from their sight.
A Foolish Action
Picture this. They make the association; he dissappears and what do they want to do? They get up that very hour against fatigue (they have been walking all day), against night, against all common sense (it’s dangerous to travel past sundown) and they head back straight away to Jerusalem.
I always imagine them kicking down the door conveying a matter of great seriousness to the other disciples, and what do they say? They don’t say, ‘we saw him and he left,’ they don’t say ‘we saw him and he went on his way when it was time,’ no they tell the others that they saw himJesus in the breaking of the break. (Luke 24:35)
That’s important. They saw something that they previously had not seen.
Losing the Ability to See
One of my favourite philosophers of the last century, Josef Pieper, had this great insight. “Our generation he said, is losing the ability to see. There exists something like a visual noise.” I think that’s so true.
So what is it that they had finally come to see, and it really took the resurrected Christ to show them? Well I think it was this. They had already had a symbolic presence of God in bread, the lechem hapanim (the bread of the presence).
But finally, because there was a request, God is able to bubble over for them; God is able to remain with all of us in a way never thought possible before.
I think of the literary artist, Alexandre Dumas. Remember he wrote The Three Muskateers and some others; he has this great line in one of his texts: “Alas it is all over, I have failed to give myself to book, a child or a flower.” Now to that Jesus says, ‘au contraire, I have found a way.’ In the appearance of bread, under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus can remain with us.
Why is that important?
It is so important because it means no matter what, outside of when two or three are gathered in his name (which is a presence). Outside of the Scriptures which is also a presence. Outside of the person of the priest who is in persona Christi during the Mass, outside of all of those things; in a real, substantial way, Jesus is present in the Eucharist.
I Want to See
Now, that is difficult for some of us; that is not easy. But to really get it I have to share a story of something my son taught me; my eldest Gabriel.
We were in Church one day and as all parents do we try to calm our children down so that we can catch some of homily. So I came up with this little thing which I thought was really quite brilliant. I started pointing things out to him, ‘what’s that?’ ‘Oh that’s the chalice.’ ‘What’s that?’ And so on. So he had all of these quiet scavenger hunts throughout the Mass.
Well I thought one day that I really needed some time to talk to God so I really wanted to give him a difficult question. He had already learned by the age of four that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist. But like I said I wanted to be kind of mean. So I said, “Gabriel, if Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, how come not everyone can see him?” And I thought, hah, smart dad here. Real theology; he’s going to be stuck for a while, you know this kind of thing. Well not even a minute went by and I felt a little tug on my trousers. I leaned down and said, ‘Yes Gabriel, what is it?’ And these were his words: ‘Dad, I think not everyone can see Jesus in the Eucharist because Jesus wants only those who love him to find him.’
Did you catch that? That’s brilliant. It made me see the Mass again differently. It made me think of the two at Emmaus. And it made me want to cry out with Bartimaeus, ‘I want to see!’ I do, I want to see.
And I think that is something we all have to ask ourselves. If we really do want to see Jesus in the Eucharist, we need to ask if our hearts are burning for him. And if they are, do not worry, the request has already been made. He is already bubbling over for you.