5/5/2011 9:27:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Jesus, present among us
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR MAY 8, THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER '...having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you may see and hear.' Acts 2:33
Because of the tabernacles in our churches, Catholics could miss some of what Luke is trying to tell us in Sunday's Gospel (Luke 24:13-35).
Reserving the Blessed Sacrament is a rather late development in the Church's history. As a seminarian in Rome in the mid-1960s, I'd sometimes play "find the original tabernacle" in some of the eternal city's oldest churches.
Most of the time, there would just be a small metal door covering a hollowed-out area in a wall or pillar in which eucharistic bread earmarked for the sick or imprisoned was kept. Never were these in a central place or constructed so the faithful could gather for "eucharistic devotion" in front of them.
Theologian Karl Rahner was convinced that the earliest Christians believed the risen Jesus was only present in the eucharistic bread and wine as long as the eucharistic community was present. When the Lord's Supper was finished, they seemed to think He was no longer present in any "leftovers" - except in those earmarked pieces I mentioned above. They saw no reason to have tabernacles.
When He rose
Christmas can never be compared to Easter. If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, we never would have started celebrating His birth.
That's why Luke's Peter puts the resurrection at the center of his Acts Pentecost speech (Acts 2:14,22-33): "God raised this Jesus," Peter proclaims; "of this we are all witnesses."
The author of I Peter (1:17-21) cuts to the heart of Christian belief: "[Jesus] was known from the foundation of the world but revealed in the final time for you, who through him believe in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God."
If Jesus' resurrection is the most important part of our faith, where and how is he the most alive among us? Luke's Emmaus narrative provides the answer. Jesus starts His encounter with His "wrong-way" disciples: "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures."
Word and bread
Commentators refer to His use of Scripture as the "Liturgy of the Word." It's followed by the disciples urging Him to stay with them, even sharing a meal: the "Liturgy of the Bread."
"It happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him."
The risen Jesus surfaces in the action we most anticipate finding Him: the Eucharist. Following early Christian belief, He immediately "vanished from their sight." He'll again be recognizable the next time they gather for the Lord's Supper.
It's important that Luke has the two tell fellow disciples that He was made known to them not in the bread, but in the breaking of the bread - in the action of sharing a eucharistic meal.
Our diocesan cathedral, remodeled after Vatican II in the 1960s, located its tabernacle in a special chapel, distinct from the area in which the community gathers to break bread.
Though we believe in Jesus' presence in the reserved eucharistic bread, back then, fresh from the Second Vatican Council's insights, we didn't want that reserved presence to be a distraction to our surfacing Jesus in our midst during the actual celebration of the Eucharist. We were encouraged to experience Him/Her in a way different from His tabernacle presence.