(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2020.)
The Gospel for today’s liturgy is the Emmaus account from the Gospel According to Luke. The story centers around the risen Jesus’ encounter with two of his disciples as they journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a village seven miles away. The passage is probably the longest of the Resurrection accounts and is packed with significance. Three points are mentioned here for consideration.
First, Jesus meets Cleopas and his companion on the journey. It is now three days since Jesus has died. Cleopas has heard the report that some of the women have visited the tomb and found it empty. He has heard that an angel has appeared to the women telling them that Jesus was alive. As they leave Jerusalem they are shaken and disturbed. There is a glimmer of hope in the news they have heard, but it is inconclusive at this point. Hence, he and his companion are “discussing all that had occurred” as they walk along.
Jesus comes onto the scene as they journey, but he is unrecognized in his risen body. He enters into the conversation as they walk along. He meets Cleopas and his companion where they are in life and walks with them.
The same is true of us. Jesus meets us on the journey of life, wherever we might be on that journey. Even if we are not looking for him, even if we are walking away, he seeks us out and walks with us. There may be times that we do not recognize him, but he is there nonetheless.
Second, Jesus invites the disciples to encounter him in the Scriptures. As the three are walking along on the journey, Jesus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” interprets “to them all that referred to him in all the Scriptures.”
Jesus’ teaching from the Scriptures was a regular and integral part of his mission. The two disciples probably had heard Jesus speak of his impending passion as fulfillment before it took place. Hence Jesus’ remark: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!”
Now in this encounter, after they have experienced his passion, death and burial — and, unknowingly, his Resurrection — the Scriptures now have a new life for them. It is as if everything is starting to come together for them and they begin to understand.
As this engagement continues, the glimmer of hope and faith grows in their hearts. Later, they will recall: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
We have the opportunity to encounter Jesus when we read, study and pray with the Scriptures. At times, the encounter may be subtle; at other times, it may be vibrant, but it is always an encounter and an opportunity to allow God to teach, instruct and admonish (cf. Colossians 3:16; 2 Tim 3:16-17). Faith and hope grow stronger within us as we encounter Christ Jesus in the Scriptures. This moves us to love.
Third, Jesus is made known to the disciples in the “breaking of the bread.” When the three companions reach a fork in the road, a decision has to be made. Jesus gives the impression that he is going one way, while Cleopas and his friend are taking the other path.
It is interesting that St. Luke says Jesus “gave the impression that he was going farther.” Why?
Perhaps this is one of those moments that a decision has to be made, as is the case at any “fork in the road.” Jesus wants the companions to make that decision.
What do they do? They do not depart. They want him to stay. They want to go further in this encounter. So they press him to “stay with us.” Jesus does so. They have opened their hearts and are welcoming him to come in and stay.
When they arrive at their home, they gather for a meal. In words that are very familiar to us, Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” At this moment, their eyes are now opened, and they recognize who is breaking the bread: Jesus is risen.
The encounter now complete, they rush back to Jerusalem to announce the good news. When they find the apostles, they recount “what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
The encounter with Jesus reaches its climax when they break bread together. The eucharistic overtones cannot be missed. The celebration of the Word reaches its fulfillment in Eucharist. In a certain sense, this is where “everything comes together” for their “eyes were opened.”
We have the opportunity to meet Jesus in the “breaking of the bread” when we celebrate the Mass, even if, as in these days, it is via a screen. In fact, there is a striking similarity between the Mass and the Emmaus account. An encounter is made, the Word is proclaimed and heard, the bread is blessed, broken and distributed. Jesus leaves us this enduring celebration by which we encounter the Risen Lord in word and sacrament. Nourished by him whom we encounter, we are now ready to go forth to proclaim His love in our lives.
The Emmaus story is one of the most popular Resurrection accounts. We are reminded that Jesus meets us on our journey of life. He invites us to encounter him in the Scriptures so that the flame of faith and hope can grow strong. He then invites us to table, to the “breaking of the bread.”
In that sharing, the encounter will be complete, and our eyes will be opened to him so that we can go forth to live his love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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