Throwback Thursday: Encountering the Lord on the Road to Emmaus Today
As the disciples walk from Jerusalem on the third day after the crucifixion, their eyes are downcast and they do not recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road. Instead, they are discouraged, struggling to comprehend everything that had happened in the preceding days – Jesus, the one in whom they had placed their hopes, was dead and all seemed lost. But then his tomb was found empty and some women in the group reported that angels had announced to them that Jesus was alive!
Then the mysterious stranger walking beside them opened up the scriptures to them, explaining why Jesus had to suffer and die in order to fulfill what the prophets had foretold about the kingdom of God. When they arrived in Emmaus, the disciples’ invited him to stay with them. While their visitor was with them at the table, he took bread, said a blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that, the disciples’ eyes were opened and they finally recognized Jesus in their midst, but he then vanished.
With excitement, they reflected on how their hearts had been burning when Jesus explained the scriptures to them as he walked with them. The joyous disciples then set off at once back to Jerusalem to tell the Apostles and other disciples about their encounter with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).
Is this not our own experience? Like the disciples of Emmaus, we can lose heart and become discouraged. Although Jesus is and has been in our midst all along, walking with us, we may not realize his presence because we are perhaps distracted by the troubles and concerns of everyday life. If this happens to us, Pope Francis recommends that we read a passage of the Gospel every day and go to Communion every Sunday to receive Jesus (Regina Caeli of May 4, 2014).
When we gather together before the table of the Lord, by the prayers of the Mass, Jesus draws out our response. He opens sacred scripture to us. He is revealed to us in the Eucharist and our hearts are opened with faith and grace to recognizing his presence. Joining with him in Holy Communion, he gives life to us. In reliving the experience of the disciples of Emmaus in this way, we can rediscover the blessing of a transforming encounter with the Lord (Id.).
Another way that the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus plays out today, notes Pope Francis, is in those people who lose faith and “under the illusion of alternative ideas, now think that the Church – their Jerusalem – can no longer offer them anything meaningful and important. So they set off on the road alone, with their disappointment” (World Youth Day Address of July 28, 2013). Faced with this situation, the Holy Father says, we need a Church capable of accompanying them on their journey to offer them meaning and warm their hearts.
Pope Francis encourages us to be missionary disciples and Spirit-filled evangelizers who can help those who are wandering aimlessly or headed in the wrong direction to return to Jerusalem – to the path of God our Father. Having encountered and walked with Jesus ourselves in our lives and in the liturgy, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we have been transformed. By our witness of this Good News, the eyes of those who are disappointed and disillusioned can be opened to Christ’s presence and possibility in their lives. By our lives of prayer and acts of love and mercy, by walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we can be to them his face and voice and hands and feet out on the crowded sidewalks, in our homes and neighborhoods, and at our work places.
The Emmaus journey is our journey as we too encounter the Risen Christ who walks with us and works through us. We are summoned to live by Jesus’ words and imitate his actions, all of which reflect the enduring merciful love of God. In this way, Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, is revealed to our world, here and now in this Easter season of 2018, just as it was to those disciples that first Easter.