The Road to Emmaus – The Risen Lord raises His crestfallen friends:
The Emmaus story is one of the most beautiful and spiritually powerful stories ever. The following is not a homily as such. I need to see you to preach and I would take a different approach. This is a reflection. I hope you find it useful. Take your time, read a bit, reflect, return.
“Where is the Lord in all of this?” Is a question some believers may pose in the silence of their hearts. I’m not just thinking about the current crisis, but often situations in our lives cause us to pose the same question. I read somewhere that if you think that God is not near, then guess who moved? The problem is our side of the fence. Jesus said: “I am with you always, yes, to the end of time”. The challenge is to try to become more aware of God Who is always thinking of us. I find helpful lessons on the road to Emmaus.
Fundamentally, the disciples cannot see. Disappointment, regret, failure, disillusionment, shame, doubt, hurt and such can effectively blind us. I suspect many of these feelings are in the two disciples’ hearts and minds as they walk the road to Emmaus. They do not recognise Jesus. We all carry baggage from the past, worries in the present, dreads for the future that can impede our vision and our ability to sense the presence and action of God. The inability of the two disciples to see past their negative feelings causes a complete lack of recognition of the risen Lord. The Easter event is a call to see things in the Light of Christ. We said recently: look to the light and your shadow/issues will be behind you. That is where we want God’s mercy to put anything that hinders deep faith or absolute confidence in the Lord’s Risen power; any blurring of our perception of God’s will, any inertia regarding the Spirit’s promptings and any hesitancy to put our faith and compassion into action.
To see as Jesus wants us to see is a challenge to us. To look at life through Easter Eyes. We need maybe to see ourselves differently. Maybe you are of deep faith, have the fullness of joy and are in a clear state of peace and holiness. That is how God wants us to be. But not of all of us are there yet, if ever. There is no such person as the perfect Christian. Our Lord loves us as we are. There is no one else He loves more than me and you. His love does not depend on how good or bad we are (Father of the Prodigal Son). Sometimes we may feel grace isn’t winning in our weakness and repetitive issues. We look at ourselves in the spiritual mirror and are disappointed with what we see. We have all our Masses, our prayers and good works and yet we are anxious we are not growing in grace or making adequate spiritual progress. One step forward and two steps back seems to describe our experience. How we long to report a significant improvement in the sacrament of Penance, but for so many of us it’s the same old litany of weakness. This is not helped when we make a comparison between ourselves and other believers who, in our assessment, seem to be so much better at this than us. The Emmaus disciples remind me of the lack of confidence showed by Nicodemus in John Chapter 3 who came to see Jesus by night. He stood back from the Lord’s loving invitation to stand in the light, retreating to the shadows where his fears placed him, his familiar environment. Be in no doubt, the Risen Lord wants a confident Easter People. Jesus wants to heal and liberate us, to raise us out of whatever is an obstacle to His love and grace in us. We have important work to do, as St. John Henry Newman said, a work entrusted to us and no one else.
‘Remedial’ is seen by some as a negative term but I find it helpful. The disciples are in need of the remedy. They are slow to understand. Something in them is falling behind the Easter message. No amount of witness and teaching has brought them up to speed. They are still in ignorance of what they should know. They have had ample opportunities: the actual witness of the women who saw the empty tomb and the two angels and the testimony of their friends. To think they see Jesus as the only one in Jerusalem that is off message! I find elements of the Mass help me to see how Jesus deepened faith and restored joy to these disciples.
First, before He will teach them, Jesus makes an assessment of the state of the disciples faith. God’s approach is incremental. They are asked to tell how it is for them in their own words. It is apparent that they have memory and interpretation problems. Memory in that grief and sadness have succeeded in lessening their awareness of the message of the Scriptures and God’s salvific history and action. All the miracles they have seen, the Lord’s Words of Life they have heard and the witness they have received seem completely overshadowed. Interpretation is an issue in that no wisdom or insight has penetrated. They are confused, thrown, in a daze of incomprehension. Positive disposition is vital. I am reminded of the penitential rite in the Mass. It is not just about my sins but the state I am in and I find the Rite is far too short for my purpose. Nonetheless, for a few moments of silence, I try to let Jesus see how it is for me. I tell Him how I overlook so many blessings and gravitate to focus on my weakness, my worries, dread and such. I lack appreciation of God’s plan which so often evades my understanding. These are important moments of honest silence in the Mass. I don’t want my issues undermining the joyful celebration which is to follow. Jesus wants to set His glorious transfiguring story of love and life alongside my life story. St Teresa said she used to throw all her concerns into the fire of God’s loving mercy. When we go to Mass again, put your story as it is, warts and all, into the penitential rite. The Mass is all the remedy we need. Let the Lord meet you where you are, as you are and, once Eucharistically blessed, He will use you in His service. When the King handed out the talents in the parable given by Jesus, each was given according to his ability. Jesus knows our strength and our weakness. He knows our full, potential (relative to the person), and what would be beyond us: He won’t take us there. So don’t panic just trust. It’s about faithfulness not success. God’s approach to us will always be bespoke, never off the peg.
Second, the Lord goes through the Scriptures pointing out all passages that refer to Him and His victory. The psalmist calls the Word a lamp to guide our steps. In life’s journey, the Word shows the path we must take. Isaiah said God’s Word never returns to Him until it achieves its purpose. It is God breathing His life into us. This Emmaus Gospel invites me to pay deeper and greater attention to God’s Word as it is proclaimed and given for my reflection. I go back to where I started, the question about where is the Lord today and in other situations that beset us? For me this is a question of discernment. So often we cannot interpret our situation and confusion sets in. As I’ve said earlier, I’m the first to say I can’t always see God’s plan in the events of my life and my loved ones. We need help to see God’s loving guiding hand. But, what often makes no sense to us is seen differently by God. We are mystified as to why the good suffer and the powerless are always on the receiving end, fragile, vulnerable, victim. We are often thrown by the cross that is only too evident. Yet Jesus asks us to take up the cross and all it involves every day. It is a positive not a negative. The disciples misunderstanding of the foretold necessity of Jesus’s victorious death blinds them to the resurrection. St. Jerome was right: Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ. The so called ‘bad news’ negated the actual Good News. Jesus offers the disciples help: The Word of God. To see that the demands of love, duty and compassion rather than blur our vision can, with God’s discerning Spirit, let us see what great work we do in our weakness and faltering efforts. The Lord teaches, the disciples’ memory issues are resolved, now they begin to understand. The world needs help to interpret these strange times. Our news media is focusing on the virus, but there is still conflict, hunger, refugees, and cruelty in our world. Be assured God is with all in need. Only the Lord can keep us striving and trusting that, as Julian of Norwich said: “In God, all will be well”.
The story continues: After the Liturgy of the Word comes the meal, the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Lord goes to leave the disciples. This is a test. Thankfully the Scriptures and the Lord’s homily of interpretation have done their work, Jesus is asked to remain. In the Mass, the Word of God is vital: The Word creates the bond, the communion of minds, the disposition to receive. In the Mass, we must emerge from the Liturgy of the Word determined that the Lord feels ‘pressed to stay’ with us. Our hunger is in place. Let Our Lord see that the Word has lastingly penetrated our minds despite our preoccupations, we are on message and focused; whatever our concerns Jesus is our priority. Our issues sorted or at least seen more hopefully (Lord have mercy); the Word reminding us that our story is in God’s Plan (alleluia, alleluia); we arrive at the Altar grateful, enlightened and ready to offer and to receive (Blessed are you Lord God of all creation).
The process of the two disciples enlightenment and the rehabilitation of their faith is completed when the Lord breaks bread with them. For us as Catholics who have the priceless gift of belief in the Real Presence, Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, the Mass is the summit and fount of all life and grace. There is no greater intimacy than to take God within ourselves and become the life and love we receive. Normal food changes us for better or worse. Holy Communion changes us to become more like Jesus. We want to be like St. Paul who said: “For me to live is Christ”. The two disciples were, as we are in the Liturgy of the Word, beautifully prepared for the breaking of the bread. To see Jesus as the Great High Priest offering the Mass, Jesus the Lamb of God sacrificed and risen held in His own sacred hands, and also the Jesus as the Altar on which the Sacrifice takes place. The Lord vanishes from their sight (from the physical sight of few), He remains as Eucharist Presence available to all who believe. Now, at last, they can see. I love the phrase “did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us”. In the Word of God in the Mass, let the Lord’s Voice burn out our sin, regret, disappointments, hurts, inadequacies, shame, sadness, uncertainties and everything that causes us to hesitate in feeling joy, hope and a true sense of how loved and safe we are in the Risen Lord.
The disciples have been transformed. The remedy has worked. They get up from the Table with a joy, faith and confidence they completely lacked when they first met Jesus on the road. Now, they go back to Jerusalem (the city they left in despondency) with new heart and purpose. Jerusalem, hasn’t changed but the disciples have. So also for us. Our issues are still our issues when the Mass is over, but, augmented with grace, we take our blessings with us to go to love and serve the Lord. Our burdens may not change but we are energised with God’s Life, His Paschal Mystery, and see all anew in hope, through the Lord’s eyes, with renewed hearts.
The ‘Emmaus Two’ have their new found faith confirmed by the other disciples in Jerusalem as our faith is always strengthened when we have gathered in faith together in the Mass. The Mass is our foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem that awaits us. But let this not just be a future hope. We say in the ‘Our Father’: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”. Our joy must be a present reality. The Lord wants His Easter People to replicate the Heavenly Jerusalem on earth. At the heart of this labour of love is the Lord Who meets us on the road, accompanies us on our journey and shows Himself to be our point of origin, our safe passage and our eternal destination. The journey continues and we will stumble from time to time. Not to worry. Just take a leaf out of St. Teresa’s book and look for the fire of God’s mercy.
Fr. Gerard x