Year A: Third Sunday of Easter
The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus
Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles* from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
- In what new ways are you recognizing God’s presence in your life?
- In what situations do your doubts and disappointments prevent you from seeing the risen Christ in your life?
- When have you had an “Emmaus type experience”, of recognizing Jesus’ spirit in another person, in the reading of the word or the breaking of bread? (Community, Scripture, Eucharist)
- How are you coming to see your spiritual life as more than a journey toward a destination but the journey itself? Explain what this means for you.
The journey to Emmaus by two disciples on the day of Christ’s resurrection is one of the most well-known and memorable stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Unique to Luke, this narrative was composed somewhere between 85- 90 C.E., for a community that had not seen or met Jesus but who desired to know where and how they could encounter the risen Christ in their lives. Luke’s community constructs this narrative to answer these significant questions that are still pertinent in our day.
Two disciples were leaving Jerusalem for Emmaus, discussing all that had occurred there. Though Jesus drew near and walked with them, they did not recognize him. Instead, they seemed to be so preoccupied with their own misunderstanding of what Jesus was about, that they failed to notice that it was truly Jesus traveling beside them.
As Jesus inquires about their discussion, they unveil their disappointment concerning Jesus of Nazareth whom they believed and hoped to be the messiah, the one to “redeem Israel.” Unfortunately, he was crucified, thus shattering all their hopes. Jesus responds by unpacking all the Scriptures concerning the suffering that the Christ had to undergo and thus enter into glory.
Arriving at Emmaus, most likely their home, Jesus accepts the invitation to stay with them for it is late. After a meal is prepared and served, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Through this act they finally recognize him. To their amazement, Jesus immediately vanishes. As they begin to realize the significance of the day’s events they recall how “our hearts were burning within us while he spoke … and opened the Scriptures to us.” Compelled to share this experience, they return to Jerusalem only to learn that the Lord had appeared to Simon. Astounded by the encounter, they announce to the disciples how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
Through the Emmaus narrative Luke’s community proclaims that the risen Christ can only be recognized whenever one seeks nourishment from the Scriptures and the Eucharist. Without such nourishment and our willingness to share it with others, no matter the cost, we will never recognize the risen Lord who constantly draws near and always walks with us. The risen Christ and his path of life is found whenever we feed on God’s revealed word and break bread together. As often as we do this in memory of Jesus, we delve deeper into the Paschal Mystery and affirm it as our God-given path to life.
Were Not Our Hearts Burning?
By: Judy Esway
Have you ever had an experience so traumatic it challenged your world view and everything you’d ever believed in? That’s what happened to Cleopas and the other disciple whom we meet in today’s Gospel. We encounter them walking towards Emmaus and away from Jerusalem, away from the place of suffering and lost hopes. In their confusion, they tried to make sense of what happened there three days earlier. A stranger quietly joins them and asks, “What are you discussing as you walk along the road?”
They’re incredulous and think “Doesn’t everyone know what happened?” So, they tell him the awful story, how the one in whom they had placed all their hopes was crucified like a common criminal! They tell him about the women who’d gone to the tomb only to find it empty, and how they’d told the ridiculous story that angels had appeared to them and said Jesus was alive. “Then some of us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.”
Seeing is believing. The disciples were not about to buy into this obvious hoax. They weren’t going to open their hearts and risk being hurt all over again. That’s when Jesus, the stranger they still don’t recognize, steps in. He explains all the Scriptures that point to him, and emphasizes that suffering is part of the plan. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
Later they recognize him during the meal, but then he vanishes! “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” As they encountered the risen Christ, their despondence turned into elation.
They could hope again, believe again, trust and love again.
Encounters with the risen Christ still happen to ordinary people like us. Think about it. Have you ever struggled with an issue when all of a sudden you meet a stranger who teaches you something important or simply consoles you? Has Jesus ever turned up in your life, perhaps in a “distressing disguise,” as St. Teresa of Calcutta puts it?
I work as a chaplain in a busy Level 1 trauma center in Phoenix. One day, while walking through the lobby on my way to visit patients on my referral list, I noticed a young, very thin, African-American man who appeared to be homeless. He was dozing on a bench with his bag of belongings at his feet.
“Hello,” I said, startling him. I introduced myself and asked how he was doing. I soon learned that he was homeless, that he’d moved to Arizona from California because he’d fallen on hard times and wanted to make a new start. He pointed to the bandage on his lower leg. He’d just been treated for a dog bite in the emergency department, and now was trying to decide where to go and what to do next. I listened to his story and was amazed that he was so articulate, so wise and mature.
Soon my heart began to burn within me. I asked if I could pray with him, and he eagerly took my hand. My “Amen” did not end our exchange. He turned things upside down and began praying and ministering to me, calling me by name. He became my chaplain. I was a little shaken when I opened my eyes and met his unflinching loving gaze.
This was no stranger. Jesus can hide in anyone when he wants to teach, enlighten, explain, comfort, console, heal and love.
So when your heart begins to burn within you, pay attention, listen and give thanks.