4-30-2017 Third Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2017
Easter III / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Today’s Gospel—the disciples on the road to Emmaus—is one of my favorites. We read it several times during the liturgical year because it is important—and we never tire hearing the story, finding new and reach details every time we meditate upon it. The reading touches on some of the most important elements of our faith: the Scriptures, the Eucharist, the person of Jesus, the love which God has for all of us.
The Gospel begins "That very day"—that is, Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, the dawn of a new age, a new creation. Two disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem, heading for a town called Emmaus. Scholars have tried to figure where and what town this is, and the best guess is a Roman garrison town, a symbol of the Roman world.
It seems a little odd that the disciples are leaving Jerusalem. Everything in the Gospel of Luke points towards Jerusalem, the cross, and the saving death and Resurrection of Jesus. But these disciples are leaving the "city of peace" and heading towards a symbol of Roman power—the arms and clubs and swords of the passion narrative. In other words, the disciples are going in the wrong direction. They had hoped that Jesus would redeem Israel, but their hopes were dashed in Jerusalem. In despair, they turn to the worldly power and pleasure of a Roman city.
Here we see ourselves . . . not two disciples two thousand years ago, but ourselves, who turn away from God, away from the cross, towards power and pleasure and all those things which promise satisfaction.
But who joins us on the way? Jesus. Even when we are headed in the wrong direction, Jesus is with us. Jesus meets us where we are, and he asks us, "What’s the problem? What’s on your mind? What are you discussing?" The very question stops the disciples. Luke indicates that the voice and presence of Jesus already affects the disciples and begins to influence them. They stop moving in the wrong direction.
And that is a good start. Pressed a little more, the disciples tell their story, and the story of Jesus—the person they "were hoping would redeem Israel." They have all the facts right: Jesus, a prophet, handed over, sentenced to death, dies on the cross, some women did not find his body, a vision of angels, an announcement that he is alive.
The disciples have all the facts right, but they can’t make sense of them. They don’t see the pattern, the key to make the facts coherent. Because of that, Jesus says to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!" You dullards! You don’t get it! And what is the missing piece? "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
Was it not necessary? As Jesus explains the scriptures to them, a light goes on in their minds. They begin to see the pattern, the key to it all: that the Christ should suffer, that the path to glory is one of "suffering love." That one must lose his life to gain it.
As the hearts of the disciples begin to burn, they beg Jesus to stay with them. It is all beginning to make sense to them—but they still have not fully realized who is speaking to them. And when do they fully realize? When they break bread together.
Jesus takes the bread, says a blessing, and gives it to them. What is this? The Eucharist—the sacramental presence of all that the scriptures have foretold. The Eucharist—the sacramental presence of Jesus’ suffering love for us. And with that, Jesus vanishes. The disciples turn around, conversion, and return to Jerusalem.
So what is the story of Emmaus? It’s the Mass. The first part, the Liturgy of the Word—Jesus present to us in the scripture. The second part, the Liturgy of the Eucharist—Jesus present to us in Holy Communion. The Resurrected Lord alive and with us every time we celebrate Mass. On this first day of the week. The Lord’s Day.