THE EMMAUS JOURNEY:
Talking, Walking, Sharing and Knowing.
- I read about a minister who was given the honor of preaching at an important meeting of his denomination. Just before he was to start his sermon he was seen to be looking anxiously around the congregation. The chairman whispered to him, “What’s the problem? Is there someone here who’s heard the sermon before?” “No,” replied the minister, “I was looking to see if there’s anybody who hasn’t heard it before!”
How embarassing! I’m in a slightly similar position, because at Easter, it’s almost certain you’ve all heard a sermon based on what happened on the road to Emmaus – although not from me!
- In 1835 a man visited a doctor in Florence, Italy. He was filled with anxiety and exhausted from lack of sleep. He couldn’t eat, and he avoided his friends. The doctor examined him and found that he was in prime physical condition. Concluding that his patient needed to have a good time, the physician told him about a circus in town and its star performer, a clown named Grimaldi. Night after night he had the people rolling in the aisles. “You must go and see him,” the doctor advised. “Grimaldi is the world’s funniest clown. He’ll make you laugh and cure your sadness.” “No,” replied the despairing man, “He can’t help me. you see, I am Grimaldi!”
- Possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so, because, you hardly ever see one, except when it’s dead on the road. There’s a joke that goes, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it could be done!”
But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there’s just one set of tracks going into it. They know there’s something in there. But if there are two sets of tracks, the possum will enter and not be afraid.
The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave – we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb. And this is the message that we need to hear this Easter Season – “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost:
The First Reading of today taken from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about Peter’s first sermon. Imagine what it must have been like to hear the Gospel message directly from the mouths of those who had personally encountered the Risen Christ and who’s lives had been changed by God’s Holy Spirit. This sermon was addressed particularly to the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem nearly two months after the Passover festival to commemorate the ancient Jewish festival of Pentecost. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood along with the eleven, raised his voice and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He explained to the crowds that Jesus who had been handed over to those who crucified him outside of the law according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. He quoted the words of king David in Psalm 16. This message of Peter was a call to penance and conversion. However, on behalf of God, it was a message of love, mercy and forgiveness. Addressing some of those who had killed Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, Peter expressed that the Lord would forgive them if they had a change of heart. God would welcome as His children all those who would embrace the truth, believing that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and Savior.
Our Faith and Hope are in the Risen Jesus:
Today’s Second Reading from the First Letter of Peter echoes the spiritual knowledge, understanding and wisdom that Peter received by the grace of God. To him was given an in-depth perception of the redemptive plan of God. He tells the Gentile believers and us too, that God has specially chosen us in Christ. He asks us to invoke the Father, the one who judges all people impartially according to our deeds during our earthly exile. He reminds us that Jesus through his blood has paid the ransom for us and the saving hope is given to us. He tells that all our faith and hope as believers are centered on this mystery of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Before creation, God knew that sin would enter the world and that Christ would redeem mankind. This knowledge has now been revealed to the world at the end of the ages for our sake. For we know that the almighty God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory. So, by setting our faith and hope in the Risen Jesus, we shall also be raised from the dead and glorified according to our deeds.
Of the stories unique to the Gospel of Luke, perhaps none is as compelling and fascinating as that of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). It is like a microcosm of the Church itself. It is filled with imagery that is pertinent not only to the Easter season, but to every day in the Church’s life. In fact, scholars suggest that the narrative is largely catechetical and liturgical in nature, fitting well in the post-Easter context of mystagogy, deepening one’s appreciation and understanding of the faith.
A walk and a meal can transform your life, and that’s what happened in the encounter of Jesus with two of his earliest followers. Trudging down the road, two utterly confused followers are joined by a third man. Their world has been turned upside down by the events of the past week: celebration, conflict, violence, and death, and now the possibility that their martyred spiritual leader has come back to life. The Resurrection is just as unsettling as the Crucifixion. It doesn’t fit into any rational world view, including the theology of resurrection of the first century Jewish people. They could imagine a resurrection of all humanity at the end of history, but not the resurrection of a solitary individual.
But, they walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, first sharing their common grief, and then entering into a strange conversation with their unexpected companion, who unfolds the story of salvation through resurrection to them. Somehow, they cannot recognize their companion as the teacher and healer Jesus. Perhaps, it is a bit of divine magic allowing them to gently adapt to a new way of seeing; perhaps, it is the highly energetic body of their companion that both reveals and conceals Jesus’ identity.
Confused and grief stricken, the two men nevertheless reach out to the stranger. They invite him to supper, and come to know his identity as the Risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Their hospitality leads to a theophany, an encounter with the Risen Jesus, who is known in the simple Eucharistic acts of praying and eating.
Movement and meal lead to revelation, and then Jesus is gone, vanishing from their sight, but leaving them with warmed hearts, lively spirits, and energetic bodies. They are so energized that they walk seven miles back to Jerusalem to share their good news that Jesus is risen and on the road.
After breaking the bread, Jesus vanished from their sight. He may have needed to be on the move as well. God is not static, imprisoned by yesterday’s revelations and the church’s creeds and scriptures. God is alive and on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with other pilgrims on the journey.
We really don’t know where Emmaus is located. Several possibilities have been surfaced, but perhaps vagueness is a virtue. In not localizing Emmaus, we can open to the possibility that Emmaus is everywhere. Wherever we are on the road and at every mealtime, Jesus comes to us, filled with energy and possibility, and the joy of resurrection. We can have new life, and we can be born again, right now at any venue. Let’s keep moving, and chart new adventures, because Jesus walks beside us on the road.
I have met many people who found this story really helped at times when they were down – hopes gone, illness and many of the crosses of life. Like for the apostles, Jesus was not visibly present – vanished and then they knew he was raised…like us. The presence, active and loving remained. He had accompanied them in a dark journey of life.
He found them:
Jesus went to them; he did not await their visit. Somehow he knew that people of his ‘set’ were in darkness and maybe despair. This is the call of the church – to be with us in prayer, community and service always, and especially for what Pope Francis calls ‘the peripheries of life’. Most of us spend some time there, and appreciate the help of love and faith.
Then they went to tell the story of how they were changed. Faith grows in sharing it. A father said – ‘in my child’s first communion, I got faith stronger.’ If we are honest and open with each other in faith, the faith of everyone grows.
Here and Now:
They told their story of Jesus in the here and now. Not reminiscing on what things were once like in Galilee. Notice this week where the Lord is present in love, care, creation, an uplift of joy, prayer and the Eucharist.
Every journey of life can be an Emmaus journey where we meet the Lord. Every altar can be the altar of Emmaus, and indeed every meal can be a time of friendship, care and nourishment for body and for soul.
We, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, have sorrows, confusion, disillusionments, and despair. It is our lot as fallen individuals, living among other fallen individuals. Yet, 1 Peter 1:6-9 is a great passage to realize the depth and truth of Jesus’ words in John 20:29: In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.
Some people need to “see” by way of proof and evidence. I thank God for divinely preventing those two downcast men from immediately seeing or recognizing Him, as it brought about a cementing of their faith and a radical transformation from sorrow to joy inexpressible and full of glory. And it is just that kind of transformation that turned the world upside down. Least we can say it shows us a community of disciples — women and men — on the road, ready to receive Word and Sacrament and always open to the surprising revelation that God sets forth through His Son Jesus Christ.
Finally, “The Emmaus Journey” begins in blindness, gloom, disillusionment and despair. It ends with the warming of the disciples’ hearts, the opening of their eyes, and their return to Jerusalem. Their encounter with the Risen Jesus had made them see the events in Jerusalem from a new perspective – God’s. Instead of looking at Jesus’ death as the end of their aspirations, they now view it as the beginning of a new life in the Risen Christ. It begins with the shattering of an immature faith and ends with the disciples giving witness to a mature faith. Their story now is a new one—a story filled with life and hope. And this is the Good News of today.
Well, where are we in our experience? Are we still heart-breaking because we need to meet the risen Christ? Perhaps we’re still in a heart-seeking process – if so, let it continue as it will surely lead to the heart-burning experience we all need. God deeply longs for each one of us to walk with Him in close fellowship so He can fulfill His plans for our lives. The Emmaus Two no doubt had walked this way many times before. Yet this day would be different, for it was the time for a life-changing encounter with their Lord. He can draw near to us at any time. The ways of God aren’t always obvious so we must be open to allow him to enlighten our understanding, to take us into a new level in our spiritual experience. Life will never be the same again!
Christ is risen from the dead! Christ is the Savior! Christ is the hope of the world! The two disciples lost no time in retracing their steps to Jerusalem to share the Good News. May that be our experience this Easter time and for the rest of our life.
All the ingredients of the Christian life are here.
– Running away from where Christ is to be found. We do it all the time.
– Meeting Jesus in the unexpected place or person or situation. How many times does this happen and we do not recognise him, or worse mistreat him?
– Finding the real meaning and identity of Jesus and his mission in having the Scriptures fully explained. Without the Scriptures we cannot claim to know Jesus. Yet how many Catholics go through life hardly ever opening a bible?
– Recognising Jesus in the breaking of bread, in our celebration of the Eucharist. The breaking and sharing of the bread indicates the essentially community dimension of that celebration, making it a real comm-union with all present.
– The central experience of Scripture and Liturgy draws us to participate in the work of proclaiming the message of Christ and sharing our experience of it with others that they may also share it.
– The importance of hospitality and kindness to the stranger. “I was hungry… and you did/did not feed…” Jesus is especially present and to be found and loved in the very least of our brothers and sisters.
The scene is also a model of the Eucharist: Those walking together on the Road gather together and meet Jesus, first, in the Liturgy of the Word as the Scriptures are broken open and explained, and, second, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where what Jesus did for us through his suffering, death and resurrection is remembered with thanksgiving and the bread that is now his Body and the wine that is now his Blood, is shared among those who are the Members of that Body to strengthen their union and their commitment to continuing the work of Jesus.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.