The author John Shea distinguishes three different movements in the mass. First, you gather the folks, then you tell the stories and finally you break the bread. This is what we do every Sunday and this is what happens with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Many scholars have taken up this story as a great example of what every mass should be like.
The first part, namely the gathering of the folks, doesn’t seem much like a gathering as these two very dejected disciples are walking away from everything. They had pinned their hopes on Jesus, but now that he suffered such a cruel death, they feel totally let down. They are not going to let themselves be taken in ever again. They don’t want to be gathered. They want out. However, this story spells out a deeper gathering, namely, it is Jesus who does the gathering. He walks beside them in their disappointment, joins in their conversation and gradually reveals himself through opening the Scriptures and the breaking of bread. In a similar way, Jesus joins us wherever we are, pulls us away from our stray paths by joining in our conversations, unpacking the Scriptures and sharing the bread.
Though the disciples are very downbeat, they have one redeeming feature, namely, they are talking to each other. As the saying goes, a burden shared is a burden halved. But what a burden! There is only one thing on their mind, namely the death of Jesus. They are looking at it from every angle but they can’t make the slightest sense of it. A humiliated crucified Messiah! It was impossible. It was unthinkable.
It was at this stage that Jesus joins them. He does so as a stranger. Sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger, and in this case, it is apparently a stranger who knows nothing of these extraordinary events of the last few days. With a simple direct question, he invites them to open up and they tell him the whole sad story. Only when they are finished does he open their minds to a new way of thinking and understanding the Scriptures. He showed them how all the prophets had foretold the Messiah would suffer and die and thus enter into glory. But, my hunch is that it was also his manner, his sensitivity and his empathy that warmed their hearts. By the time Jesus intended to go on, it was their hearts burning within them that pressed him to stay with them. Then, in that moment of great joy, they recognised him in the breaking of bread.
Luke wrote his gospel about half a century after the Lord’s death and resurrection. His readers may well have been envious of the people who were fortunate enough to have seen the Lord with their own eyes. But here Luke makes the point that those who were in that enviable position did not truly recognise Jesus until the Scriptures were expounded and the bread was broken. The Christians of Luke’s time had the same means of recognising the Lord — the Scriptures and the breaking of bread. The same goes for us today. We too have the Scriptures and the breaking of bread in which to recognise the Lord for they are the essential components of the Eucharist.
The other component, namely the gathering of the folks, has its place also for it suggests that we do this together. The Emmaus story highlights this by suggesting that if we travel life’s journey with others, sharing our faith and our doubts with them, Christ will be with us, opening our minds to the truth. Just as he gave them deeper insight, so he does for all who listen to him. His promise remains, “I am with you, always!”
In truth, we are all on an Emmaus journey, a Camino or pilgrimage of faith. We may be perplexed by events in our own lives, disappointments, loss of a job, failure, collapse of a relationship, shattered dreams, betrayal by friends. We are certainly very deeply disturbed by the scandals in our own Church. We are deeply disturbed by the lack of peace in our world, the injustices of society, worries about the future. Everything, indeed, may seem very, very dark. And we may feel as helpless and as hopeless as those two disciples did.
If so, we need community. We cannot fight depression alone. We cannot make sense of things alone. We need to lean on one another for support. We need to search the Scriptures together to see what answers they may have for us. And then we can go out and spread this good news.
This story has another lesson for us. We tend to walk away from situations and places that have painful associations for us. Sometimes that can be the right thing to do, but perhaps not always. The gospel shows two disciples walking away from Jerusalem. Understandably they wanted nothing to do with a city that put Jesus to death and also killed all the hopes they had invested in Jesus. Although they didn’t realize it at the time, Jerusalem was also the city where Jesus was raised from the dead and it would be the city where the risen Lord would pour out his Holy Spirit upon the disciples; the city from which his message would begin to be spread to the world. The Lord journeyed with these two disciples to help them to see that there was more to the city of Jerusalem than they realized. It is often the case in our own lives that those dreary and dark places we try to get away from, are the very places where the seeds of new life are to be found, and where God is mysteriously but powerfully at work in the darkness.
Sunday, 30 April 2017