Somehow they intuit presciently what they cannot yet consciously grasp; Augustine, who loves this passage, introduces what now follows: “And because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of the Scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread” (Harmony of the Gospels 3.25).
The theological implications of this passage, as Augustine sees, are tremendous. First, had they, preoccupied with their own grief, not pressed Jesus to stop and stay overnight (24:29), this wonderful story might not be here for us.
Second, as Augustine says of Jesus on the way, “He was at one and the same time seen and concealed. . . . He was walking with them along the road like a companion, and was himself the leader. He was seen, and not recognized” (Sermon 235.2–3). It would be hard to find a theme that more clearly resonates through Luke’s narrative than this.
Now, a third and all-encompassing revelation: as the liturgy of the Orthodox church makes more apparent than liturgical language in the West, the “guest” is the host. Here, mysteriously, the Emmaus pair know it in the experience, for “as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and broke, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight” (24:30–31 KJV).
Perhaps he had done this in their presence before; it is likely. Perhaps also the most familiar of words, following his exposition of the scriptures, and in his presence and prayer, took on a sudden sweep of meaning that opened their eyes as in an astonishing burst of light: “Baruch atah adonai [did the Lord say here Yhwh?] elohenu, melech haolam, hamotzeh lechem min haeretz” (“blessed are you Lord God, king of the cosmos, who brings forth bread from the earth” [author’s translation]).
Perhaps they saw his nail-pierced hands.
On level after level, new meaning must have sprung from this old blessing of the bread, for here, for them, the Bread of Life who had sprung from the earth had become at once their guest and host.