The Hospitality Kitchen, also known as the “Hippie Kitchen,” one of the many programs run by the Catholic Worker program, is in the heart of Los Angeles’ downtown skid row section. L.A.’s skid row has roughly 10,000 homeless, poor, and marginally employed residents. The area, with is numerous street encampments, rescue missions, and single room occupancy hotels has been dubiously named “the homeless capital of the nation.” It is also the most policed area in the country. The soup kitchen offers hot meals three days per week to thousands of our brothers and sisters in need. They also have a medical and dental clinic on site with doctors and nurses volunteering their time.
On the side wall of the Hospitality Kitchen, there is a large mural, beautifully painted and depicting the homeless community lining up for food. Upon a closer look, you realize that one of those people is Jesus himself. The power of the image is that Jesus is one among the many – simply getting in line with the others. It is also a reminder that God is in full solidarity with all of humanity and stands with the poorest among us. For me this mural is an icon of the appearance stories that we hear at this time of the year as we journey through the fifty days of Easter.
One of those stories is of Jesus appearing with two of his followers as they journeyed along road to Emmaus. He seems to have just quietly came into stride as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and joined in the conversation. But the thing is, the disciples didn’t realize it was him. So close, yet so unrecognizable. It was only later as he sat with them at the table in their home that something happened that was familiar. He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them. It was in that moment that his friends remembered their last meal together in the upper room. The same words, the same blessing, the same undeniable sense of love and solidarity. In community, as companions, Jesus became known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Latin root word for “companion” is companis, which means “bread,” or “loaf,” or more literally, “to be bread for one another.” We are all called to be companions along the way with one another. We are all called to be bread for each other – to nourish one another. On the sacred journey of life we will meet many people along the way – people who are struggling and people who help us when we stumble. The road to Emmaus winds through our city streets, the soup kitchens, jails and prisons; the hospitals and slums. It runs through the COVID isolation chambers and hears the salute of banging of pots and pans for hospital workers as they return home from the front lines of the pandemic. It takes us through the bloodshed of Palestine and the poverty of Haiti; and on the road of exile with our Syrian sisters and brothers. It runs through Lacey Park, along Colorado Boulevard and onto 6th & Gladys in skid row. All along the way we are called to be bread for each other. We are called to nourish one another with food and dignity.
When we encounter one another on this Communion Road and respond to the needs and hopes of others we are given the opportunity to engage in real, positive change in the lives of our global community. In the process, we are transformed. And through it all God is with us, and it is in these communal acts of love and mercy that the Reality of God comes into focus. It is then that, as Christians, Jesus becomes known to us in the breaking of the bread. It is then that the Divine Reality becomes real for all people of every tradition in their own understanding. Because this bread of life – the companis – is baked with love, a love that is big enough for all people everywhere, regardless of spiritual tradition, national origin, denominational stripes or political affiliation. The Road to Emmaus is for all people and will take us to the one truth that we are all in this together. On this road we will never look into the eyes of anyone that God does not love. On this road, God becomes one of us. On this road, we become one with God, because we all share the one bread of our collective soul dipped in Divine Love.
Brother Dennis Gibbs, CDL