3rd. Sunday of Eastertide (A)
(Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-33; 1st. Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus appeared Personally and in human form to the Apostles and to some women who had served Him in His public ministry because of the close relationship He had formed with them during His days on earth. Today, however, we have heard of His choosing two other disciples -- one Cleopas and the other unknown to us -- who were walking to Emmaus, which archaeologists have recently discovered and literally un-earthed, and which seems to have been a wealthy village in close, Sabbath-proximity, that is, to Jerusalem. Though Jesus appeared to Cleopas and his companion in human form, He only became Personally known to them in the same way that He wills to reveal Himself to us and all His disciples throughout the ages, that is in and through the Scriptures and the celebration of the Eucharist.
Jesus appeared and said to them, "What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?"
Their hearts and minds were filled with memories of Jesus and thoughts of His crucifixion: they had been lovingly and painfully talking together on what had happened to Him, and what sort of future there might be in store for them without Him, since, with the death of Jesus, the very bottom had been knocked out of their world as we would say:
We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel.
By His choice of these two men on the way to Emmaus Jesus shows us that He wills to reveal Himself only to those who love and obey Him, as He Himself said:
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15)
and these two men had enough love and obedience to be truly suffering for loss of Him.
It is both gladsome and exciting to hear how their hearts thrilled and their attention became spellbound as Jesus -- walking beside them along the road -- gradually made them aware of His presence in the Scriptures:
They said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?"
As I have said, these men had been bound to Jesus by love and obedience, and they showed their enduring love for Him by their appreciation of and concern for this man whom they still did not know, when, as:
They drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther, they constrained Him, saying, "Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." And He went in to stay with them.
Despite the fact that there was nowhere to go further along the road:
Jesus indicated that He would have gone farther;
and had their charity not obliged Him He would, perhaps, just have walked on into the darkness and disappeared from their lives. As it was, however, He accepted their invitation and turned aside to stay the night with them.
As they had walked together along the road Jesus had rewarded their belief in Him by interpreting the Scriptures for them; now, at their shared meal, He rewards their love, their fraternal charity, with His Eucharistic self-revelation as you heard:
He took bread, blessed and broke It, and gave It to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
Leaving Jerusalem, they were disciples wanting to hope in the Lord, and Jesus’ revelation of His presence in the Scriptures gave them inspiration to hope. They now needed strength to face up to the difficulties looming on the horizon: and His Eucharistic Presence and blessing endowed them with the strength of mind and heart required to trust and serve Him no matter what those trials might turn out to be. Now, indeed, they were very close to understanding that the Lord would always be with them, in the Scriptures and in the Eucharist.
For the moment, however, they were not quite there, for though they had truly heard and seen, loved and revered, the Lord, suddenly He had gone from their sight again. Whatever might have been the original purpose of their journey to Emmaus it was forgotten now, since we are told that:
They rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the Eleven and those who were with them gathered together,
Being true disciples of Jesus, they were -- unknown to themselves -- already under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, for after that encounter with the Risen Lord they immediately relinquished their previous intentions for something far more important in Jerusalem with the Church. There, they learnt that Jesus’ encounter with them was but one of several such apparitions, all of which were -- it would seem -- not just isolated events but for the comforting and for the strengthening in faith of the whole Church, and most especially was that the case with His appearing to Peter.
Together, the whole Church -- including Mary the Mother of Jesus -- prayed over what had happened and Peter came to understand something of the meaning of these appearances and was able to proclaim in the name of the Church, as we have heard:
Men of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, Whom you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death, God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. Therefore, being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
Once again, the two Emmaus disciples found themselves being shown how to understand the Scriptures about Jesus: and now, they were able to realize that Jesus was not just, somehow, living again but that He was indeed living for and in the Church: that He was speaking to them once again, through the voice of the Church. Moreover, they would experience in the Church that which they had seen the Lord do -- bless, break and offer the Eucharist -- for the Lord had commissioned the Apostles to do that in memory of Himself. In that way, they would come to realize that their meeting with the Risen Lord on the way to Emmaus was not irrevocably past, for, in the Church, they would always be able to thrill to an ever deeper understanding of the Scriptures, to share with ever more grateful and appreciative love in the celebration of the Eucharist, and to constantly find cause for rejoicing in the enduring presence of Lord to His Church in His Word, His Body and His Blood!
At this point, we should make special note that Jesus revealed Himself to those two disciples in the course of the celebration of the Eucharist. There is no mention -- although we need not doubt it -- that the disciples actually received the Bread Jesus had blessed and broken; but the point is that it was in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in the blessing, the breaking, and offering of the bread that the disciples recognized Him
As He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them: then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.
Or, as a more narrative form of translation strikingly puts it:
He asked God's blessing on the food and then took a small loaf of bread and broke it and was passing it over to them, when suddenly -- it was as though their eyes were opened -- they recognized him! (TLB)
This is particularly important today, People of God, because some --- because of present necessities – may come to think that a televised or ‘streamed’ Eucharistic service is pretty much as good as participating in one’s parish Mass especially where, in certain parishes, Mass even in normal times was being omitted during the week in favour of one or two Eucharistic services. However, such substitutes for the parish celebration – as a people convened-and-gathered-together In the name of Jesus, and manifesting their present-day obedience and love for the Lord -- are not good enough, except in grave necessity. The Church is called to continue and bring to fulfilment the mission of Christ: that is, to give glory to the Father and make available God’s offer of salvation to the world. Only full celebration of Mass as Sacrifice and Sacrament -- liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist -- can give supreme glory to God and build up the Church as the Body of Christ living to the full by the Spirit of Christ. It is too easy today, at times, for simple and insufficiently educated Catholics to pick up the idea that Mass is really only necessary for the Sunday collection, for the pomp and circumstance of days of obligation, only necessary occasionally for stocking up Hosts for the coming week. After all, they would say, the only thing that really matters is that we are aware of Jesus' love for us and try to live good lives in return. That is quite wrong. At Holy Mass, the whole Jesus – glorified Lord with His Mystical Body – is called to give supreme glory to the Father in fulfilment of the original purpose of Creation, and all men and women of good will are– by a right celebration and understanding of the actions and words of Scripture and reception of the Holy Eucharistic -- to be offered salvation by faith in the name Jesus and the power of His most Holy Spirit guiding and directing our lives along Jesus’ ways.
We should be careful never to allow ourselves to slip into thinking merely of our own self and our own relationship with Jesus. We must, on the contrary, be constantly aware of Jesus’ abiding presence in and with Mother Church, pouring out His Holy Spirit on us through her sacraments, above all the Eucharist, so that He, the Spirit, might form us, as individuals and as members of the Church, in the likeness of Christ, so that the Risen and Glorious Lord might ultimately be able to lead us all into the presence of the Father, veritable sons and daughters in the beloved, only-begotten Son, for the eternal praise and glory of the Father.
Our spiritual pilgrimage and deepest joy on earth consists in recognizing and appreciating more and more Jesus’ presence-for-us in, with, and through, the Church, and, the same Peter who, in the name of the Church, proclaimed the significance of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, also taught us, in our second reading, the sort of response we should give to Him Who does such great deeds and offers such glorious promises to those who are true disciples of His Son:
If you call on the Father Who, without partiality, judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here (on earth) in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.
So, People of God, rejoice in the Lord always, honour Mother Church and receive her sacraments with reverent love and heartfelt gratitude; pray the Holy Spirit to come and rule in your mind and heart; and in all situations try to share with Jesus and Mother Church in giving constant worship and praise to God the Father Who is All in all.