Scripture Readings: Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-28; First Letter of Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
Perhaps the first question we want to ask after hearing this Sunday’s Gospel text is: why did the disciples not immediately recognize the risen Lord? Had they not known Jesus well, knew how he looked, talked and walked? The death that Jesus went through had certainly shattered the hopes of his immediate followers. They were sure now that he was gone and not even ready to recognize Jesus when He in fact appeared in His risen state to the Emmaus disciples and others.
The recent crucifixion and death of Jesus was understood by the disciples at this point in time as utter defeat, yet the tomb found empty by the women was gnawing at everyone’s heart as to what this could all mean. Some of the descriptions recounted in Scripture almost sound like the disciples are in a dream or a daze over everything that is going on so rapidly around them: the empty tomb, angels speaking, and sightings of the risen Lord.
It took the actual appearance of the Lord to His followers to put their hearts at rest, even to set their hearts on fire, to bring all the events together and to give them understanding about all that had happened and was taking place.
The two Emmaus disciples are called by Jesus “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken.” Jesus is in fact the very fulfillment of the prophesies of old, appearing and explaining to them the meaning of all these things that they were witnessing. Yet even this was not enough. The explanation was a prelude and a preparation for what was unmistakable: the breaking of the bread, when finally the disciples were able to see the Lord in their midst, and live in the surety that Christ had indeed risen from the dead, as He had foretold.
No doubt so recently having seen or having heard about their master hanging from the cross and dying had been a terrible blow to the disciples. It disturbed them to the depths, even to the point of forgetting Jesus telling them earlier that He would indeed rise and prove victorious over death. The eyes of Jesus’ followers became obstructed and they only were able to see clearly once again when the Master broke bread in their presence.
In the case of other disciples, Mary Magdalene for example, recognized Jesus when He pronounced her name. Cleopas and the other Emmaus disciple, needed something else, in this case, the action and probably accompanying words of the breaking of bread, in order to be able to recognize clearly their Lord.
In the breaking of bread we understand that Jesus was celebrating a Eucharist in their presence, the memorial of Christ’s offering Himself for the life of the world. In the past Jesus had broken bread often enough and distinctly enough that the words and actions were immediately recognized by even those of clouded mind or thought.
Do we recognize the Lord in the breaking of bread whenever the Church celebrates the Holy Eucharist? May the Lord open our minds to look beyond the bread we eat, to really see our Savior and Lord, when we are present and partake of the Eucharist.
I was recently asked if “attending Mass” when it is televised is “just as good” as going to Mass in a church. I said something to the effect that watching a cooking show or a Burger King ad will not satisfy our natural hunger. Just so, televised Mass, while undoubtedly a great blessing and help for many at this time of world crisis, is still not the same as going to Mass at church and receiving Holy Communion.
In today’s Gospel Jesus walks with his disciples, speaking to them, breaking bread in their presence and then disappearing. It is a mysterious encounter, but also it is clearly the Lord in the midst of his own beloved followers, bringing them new and eternal life.
In his Easter homily recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Peter says that Jesus was “not abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption.” Our Lord’s flesh, His physical body lives on in a risen state. Meditating on the risen Lord appearing in bodily from should lead us to a deeper hope in risen, immortal, life after death. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are on a journey, and meant to meet Christ as He presents himself to us each day.
The disciples’ journey did not end at Emmaus. They went back to where they had begun. Their journey took them again to Jerusalem, where they could bear witness that they had seen the risen Lord. Our journey too, like theirs, is meant to end in Jerusalem, but the heavenly Jerusalem! May we learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ and may He lead us all to everlasting life.