God is a stranger. We know him, but we don’t know Him. He’s evident to us in the scriptures, but he unveils something about Himself that’s unthinkable, even seemingly post resurrection. It’s a complete and total surprise that requires a total conversion of our imagination and sight. He’s in our midst, but not in a way that we see him clearly. This is one of the things I think Luke intends to teach us with the Emmaus Road narrative in Luke 24.
Jesus said that He would not eat of the meal of the Eucharist again until the coming of the kingdom, but when He resurrected He met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and broke bread with them. The scriptures alone had kindled their hearts, but the preached word was only enough to incite a yearning without the breaking of the bread as witness to the One. His resurrection is the inauguration of the kingdom, a kingdom whose power structure is one of humility, brokenness, kenotic self-effacement, and ultimately Love of the Father and Love of Neighbor.
He is not absent, He is hidden, but He is here. He is a stranger in our midst at times, if we are not gathered in peaceful breadbreaking, but He is here nonetheless. He is not visibly the rightful king, but he is already calling into question all the powers that be. His visible absence is in itself now a form of presence in His Spirit. He is not present in such a way that all can see His reign, but He is here. He is present with us in the Eucharist until He comes again. We declare His lordship because He is in our midst. He has given us His body, his blood, his kingdom, and the Spirit which animates them all.
The language of the New Testament about Christ’s ascent to heaven is not to be taken to mean that he has gone somewhere far away, and is absent from us, but instead it is that He has gone to the place where He rightly administers control of the world. It is better that He has gone so that we can have the continued presence of His administration in and through His Spirit. Heaven in biblical theology is a polite allusion to the reign of God, and if Jesus has ascended to the control room, this changes everything.
If he hasn’t ascended to clouds to sit at the right hand of the Father in static divinity, but has ascended to the place where His administration of the world is fulfilled and made perfect, this gives us the ability to say Jesus Christ is Lord, and all other powers are weak parodies of what it means to rightly rule the world.
The Church is already in heavenly places, at least in the vision of the New Testament, and the continued tradition of Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern Catholic witness. She has the task, responsibility and rightful desire to be an icon of those heavenly places, in her worship, her people, and her politics. The Church transfigures the life of the world, exposes its lies and reveals the glorious kingdom hiding in plain sight. Waiting to be uncovered through sacrificial Divine Love.
When we part-take of this bread recognizing the miracle that is pure gift to us, the one sacrifice to atone for sins forever, we are beginning to see through the eyes of the kingdom. When we recognize the power of this Christ miracle, when we see this bread broken for us, and see His body, our eyes are beginning to be opened. The sacraments are not a mythic addition to Christianity, they’re the only thing that makes proper respect of the physical power of the resurrection.
Without the tangible sign of the Lord’s body, the word alone will not suffice. Experience alone will not suffice. The two work together to witness to The Lord Himself, and once we receive him in the breaking of the bread, our eyes are open to the possibility of New Creation. Reflecting back to the beginning of the story, Luke is teaching us that this bread is undoing the entire first “opening of eyes.” This bread is taking us all the way back to Eden, and thrusting us all the way into New Creation, where the promise we have inherited is fulfilled, and is already guaranteed because of this bread, and the Spirit of the One Who embodies it.
It is the continual breaking of the bread that is the reason for our celebration despite the powers that be. Our worship is our politics. In the face of the tyrants and their powers of death, the oppressions that they bring and the corruption and decay that they cause we declare the world to be on a different calendar. We acknowledge a different power, we have the faith to grasp as present true Love, true Justice. We have the hope that those things we grasp as present and live as though they are present will someday be fulfilled. And it is radical charity, a trusting friendship with God and neighbor that animates both towards their proper end.