3rd Sunday of Easter A

The story of the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus is my story.  It fits all I believe of Christ.  It holds paramount meaning in my life.  The Journey Retreat is based on the story of Emmaus.  When we started the Albany Catholic Worker, we called it Emmaus House and as I read to my mother the Gospels for funerals as she lay dying, she passed away as I read about Emmaus.  I thought, “Of course.”  These verses from Luke have always brought me consolation, challenge and joy.  I hope you have a favorite Christ story, a story you can have a special relationship with that could speak to you at a first communion, a wedding or a funeral.  Emmaus is my story.

I love the story for its multiple images of Jesus upon which I can rely.  This time I saw Jesus along the watchtower.  It is Easter Day.  He has been raised from the dead and it is late in the afternoon. But two disciples are leaving Jerusalem despite the growing buzz among the Christ believers of the resurrection. They are not two of his most important disciples.  We have never heard of Cleopas and the other is never named.  Let’s say the other one is Mrs. Cleopas.  And yet there is ultimate concern on Jesus’ part for them to understand.  He cannot let them go.

He knows there faith has been shaken.  The cross has crushed their dreams and not even rumors of a resurrection can raise their hopes.  They have given up.  As Jesus predicted, all of us have had or will have our faith shaken.  He is coming to restore theirs.

He joins them on the road and joins their journey the only place he can – where they are.  Like a friend catching up with others, he comes up from behind, clasps his arms on their shoulders and says, basically, “What’s up?”  But a familiar theme in the resurrection narratives helps to advance the plot.  They look at their new companion, but they fail to recognize Jesus.  Obviously, if they did, the point is made and their doubt comes to a screeching halt.  But that would not allow them to do what everyone whose faith has been shaken.  They must tell their story.  They must tell their story if they are a young person who feels their faith is slipping away. They must tell their story if they have asked desperately for something precious, something good, and have not received it.  They must tell their story if they prayed for someone to live and they died.

These disciples must share their heartbreak as they do the stranger.  They are amazed that this visitor and not heard of the remarkable events of the crucifixion.  They speak of the strength of the one they had followed, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. “  They spoke of the hope they had lost “that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”  So profound is their loss that even the whispers of life beyond death cannot bring them back to Jerusalem.

Jesus listens patiently to their whole telling of their tale.  But then he presents another narrative.  He says, “Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” Don’t say that to those whose faith has been shaken.  He gets to do it because he is Jesus and he knows how this is going to end.  But follow his way of bringing them back.  He spoke of what they knew and they always believed from Moses and the Prophets. He showed a God who always engages people.  He makes sense of the suffering on the cross for the life of God must include every life, no matter how lonely and cruel, and finally he unpacks for them the promise of the resurrection which makes the horror of the cross a triumph and its defeat a victory.  They would look back on this moment of teaching and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

We must reach out with the same narrative to those whose faith is shaken.  We must paint a God who is always with them, who cares about how they are hurting and knows how to return them to the peace they have longed for.  We must share the same God of their Good Fridays is the God of their Easter Sundays.

Then, with patience beyond patience, Jesus allows them to grow still deeper with them.  He acts as if he is going on toward Emmaus.  He gives them the opportunity to invite Jesus to dine with them.  As Catholic evangelizers, we do not cram God down the throats of anyone. We simply share ourselves and our story and give them the space to invite Jesus in.  Of course, when they are seated together, Jesus does Jesus.  He presides. He breaks the bread and gives it to them.  “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”  The shaken have been stirred by the talk on the road and the doubting now see.  They see what so many who have had their faith shaken come to recognize – that Christ was there with them always.

Here we break open the word and tell the story of love; here we broken open our lives and share the story of faith; here we break the bread and our eyes are opened and we see Christ with us.  This is the stop on the road to Emmaus where lives are turned around.   Here weakened knees are strengthened and sloughed shoulders are made broader.  Here is our peace and hope and faith.  Let us go out to the road and catch up to those who faith is misplaced or forgotten and tell them the story of Jesus Christ.