The story of Jesus’s journey to Emmaus has to be one of favorite stories in the whole of Scripture. Cleophas and another disciple were traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus, devastated by their Master’s crucifixion only days before , and utterly bewildered by the women’s report of the empty tomb, when Jesus sidled up alongside them and struck up a conversation. “What are you discussing?” Then, while preventing their eyes from recognizing him, Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27). And as if that wasn’t enough, after he accepted their invitation to dinner, “he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.” (Lk. 24:30-31). It was the Mass we celebrate today – the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. What we might not realize is how the meal at Emmaus was also the culmination of the psalms Jesus prayed while suffering upon the Cross. It was his post-Resurrection celebration of the todah!
Todah – it has been 25 years since Scott Hahn’s book, The Lamb’s Supper, first brought the term to the attention of us masses. The todah (meaning “thanksgiving) was a thank offering sacrifice that a person made to God after being saved from calamity. One part of the animal offered upon the altar in the Temple, while another part was consumed in a sacred meal by the offerer and his family and friends. The meal began with a blessing over unleavened bread and wine, and eating it expressed the communion established between God and all those present. Dr. Hahn noted the connection between Jesus’s establishment of the Eucharist (“thanksgiving” in Greek), the sacred meal in which the Lamb of God, who was offered upon Cross, establishes communion between us and his Father in his flesh and blood. He also drew our hearts and minds upward with the revelation that the Jewish rabbis had taught all sacrifices, with the exception of the todah, would cease when the Messianic Age dawned! Yes, the Messiah was to be “a priest forever” in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4), the king-priest who had offered a thanksgiving sacrifice of bread and wine when Abraham’s deliverance in battle (Gen. 14:19-20). Here I want to build upon Dr. Hahn’s insight by drawing your attention to how the todah is directly related to the prayers Jesus offered in his Passion.
When dying upon the Cross, only a few words escaped our Lord’s lips; but they give us great insight into the prayer of his heart. In that excruciating pain Jesus prayed the lamentation psalms, the “rote” prayers he had known since childhood. He prayed Psalms 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) and 31 (“Into your hands I commit my spirit”), and said “I thirst” to fulfill Psalm 69 (Jn. 19:28). The common thread between all these psalms, however, was not just lamentation, but thanksgiving. (In his Feast of Faith [pp.54-57], Cardinal Ratzinger shared the scholarly opinion that Psalms 22 and 69 had their origins in todah celebrations). Each began with the psalmist crying out to God from the midst of mortal danger, but ended with him looking forward, in confident hope, to the moment when he would offer God thanksgiving for bringing about his deliverance! We also find what seems to be an overt reference to the meal so integral to the todah in Psalm 22: 25-26, “From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied …”
Emmaus is where we see the risen Messiah celebrate his todah! Jesus had received the deliverance for which he prayed – both his and the entire human race’s – and he celebrated the sacrificial meal, in thanksgiving and praise of his Father, with his two disciples in Emmaus. The Eucharist Jesus had instituted at the Last Supper, in anticipation of his Passion, was now celebrated in the glory of the Resurrection. The Lamb who had offered himself to the Father now established communion by giving himself to the disciples under the appearance of bread, which he “took…blessed…broke…gave” (the same four verbs used in the the Last Supper account, Lk. 22:19) It was as if Jesus couldn’t wait even the few short hours until he appeared to the Apostles in the Upper Room to celebrate his todah-eucharist! And if that was the case, then how many times do you think Jesus celebrated the Sacrament with the Apostles over the next forty days?
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus announced that he had come, not to abolish the law and the prophets , but to fulfill them (Mt. 5:17). When he, the righteous sufferer, prayed the lamentation psalms they took on their deepest significance; and the todah spirituality found therein found its fulfillment in Jesus’s Eucharist. And not just the todah – the Eucharist was the fulfillment of all of the worship under the Old Covenant – the Passover, tamid (daily offering), the showbread before the Holy of Holies, etc., etc. And Christ shows us the Eucharist’s centrality for our lives not just by its institution on the night before his death, but by its celebration on the day of his Resurrection. Like the disciples at Emmaus, our bodily eyes may be prevented from seeing him as he is, but the Holy Spirit allows us to recognize him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk. 24:35), and unite ourselves to his offering. He establishes communion between God and men by giving us himself, the God-Man, as food and drink!
This article was adapted from Shane Kapler’s book, Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own (Angelico Press, 2014).