The third Sunday of Easter, we are presented with this beautiful narrative of the walk to Emmaus. Luke’s gospel is a literary work of art and the walk to Emmaus is one of its finest. Through the Church’s life it’s been beloved of artists, theologians and Christians alike, as we constantly find new food for reflection from it.
Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio. National Art Gallery.
As the passage opens, we find two disciples, from the group of seventy, who are walking away from Jerusalem and their community. In Luke, everything flows towards Jerusalem, which is the place of destiny. It is here that Jesus has to go to die and to rise again. Here it is that all of God’s purposes for the world are fulfilled. These disciples, represent us in our journey. Luke gives the name of only one of them – Cleopas – put your own name for the other. The disciples however, are going completely in the wrong direction.
Jesus draws near them. He doesn’t stop them, he just walks with them, but they don’t recognise him. St Augustine says, they don’t recognise the One who is the Way, because they are on the wrong way. So, they don’t understand the Truth and don’t receive new Life. Jesus, very innocently asks them, what are you talking about? This is prayer. God draws near and waits for us to tell him what is in our heart. It doesn’t matter that He already knows everything.
He then remarks, “How foolish you are! Slow to believe the prophets”. Seems like a sudden change of tone from Jesus? Jesus never says anything he doesn’t intend. Foolishness in the Scriptures, is the opposite of wisdom. You will find this, especially in the Book of Proverbs. The fool is the one who cannot understand or interpret the events in his life. He is imprudent, he acts too rashly; he often acts outside the will of God for his life. These two disciples narrate everything that has happened. They even tell Jesus about the women finding the empty tomb and the vision of angels. They have all the facts but not the truth. Especially today, we place so much importance on having facts. But facts are useless without interpretation. And without being able to interpret the meaning of the drama as it unfolds, they walk away, abandoning Jerusalem, their community, their calling, the purpose God has for them.
The disciples don’t have what is called a hermeneutic – the key to unlock, interpret these events. Now, Jesus begins to open the Scriptures up to them, explaining all of it, concerning himself. All of the Scriptures, all of the drama of salvation which has been unfolding until now, and will continue to unfold in the world, come together in Christ. All of history, finds meaning in him. His life, and especially his passion, death and resurrection is the hermeneutic that unlocks history. He says, was it not necessary, that the Messiah should suffer and then enter his glory? The disciples couldn’t understand what had happened because their understanding didn’t include the possibility of the Resurrection; without that, nothing else holds together. It is the Resurrection which gives meaning to the death, but it is the dying which makes possible the Resurrection. This is the same for us. As Pope John Paul II loved to say, ‘we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song’.
When the resurrection becomes a reality in our lives, we can face our life without fear, whatever the events that might come our way. I don’t know what your plans were for this year. I’m sure it did not include a pandemic and being locked up in your home. We are living through a time for which no one planned, very clearly. Suffering is something which touches all of our lives in different ways. Suffering is a consequence of sin. More importantly though, suffering includes within itself, the possibility of love. In a fallen world, there is no love without sacrifice. And Christians are those who live out of this pattern of love, made visible in Christ’s life. This is our baptism. In baptism, we were immersed into the death and resurrection of Christ. Living this means that at any point in your life, you are going through this same pattern, this three-day process: you’re either dying to something – letting go of something, burying it and reconciling with it or rising to new life.
Which means that all of our life has meaning. Everything, the good, bad and ugly, they all can become a movement towards God and becoming like him. At this time, many of you, who are parents have suddenly had to take on so much more duties at home; teaching your children while and work, take care of the house, make sure everyone stays sane, and what not. Many of you would just be getting on with it, because you love your children and others. There are others who have lost more. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe your wedding has been postponed. In all this, it can be very easy to give in to frustration and regret.
But we are not called to live all this on our own strength. It is the Holy Spirit, given to us in our baptism who works this in our lives. He is the one who made it possible for Jesus to undergo his Passion. If we can embrace what comes our way, as a gift, out of love for Christ, with that, comes also the strength of the Spirit. He can cause us to find new love in everything. We can recognise Christ, who is the Way through all things. When we refuse to give in to this process, we fall out of this pattern of Christian life. That is usually at the core of our sins.
The disciples finally reach the village. All through their journey, the risen Christ unlocks the Scriptures to them, preparing their hearts. Now, as he breaks the bread, which is the summary of his entire life, given as gift, they recognise the risen Christ. They see Christ, the Truth and having received his life, they immediately head back to the community they have left, as they are able to recognise him in each other.
This drama of course, happens every week for us in the Eucharist. Notwithstanding the present time, it is here, we come together, bringing everything that has happened during the week. Here, as the Word is broken open, our life can be interpreted through the Scriptures. Most of the time, people are trying desperately to interpret, to understand the scriptures. You don’t have to interpret the Word. The Word comes to interpret you. If we can receive this Word, we can come to the altar, where Christ gives of himself, a share in his own life. Here, all of our struggles, our joys, sufferings and everything else, finds a place. Here we receive the Spirit who transforms us into the Body of Christ. And from here, we are sent back into the world, as Jesus disappears from view, but his body – you and me – remain as his presence wherever we might be. This Word has come to you and me. Whatever it is you might be going through now, give it to the Lord and ask for his Spirit. When the Spirit comes, he makes all things new.