By Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
The news of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead must never become “old news.” Jesus Christ is alive forever and His Gospel is alive. It is not “old news” and it is not “fake news.” The encounter with the Risen Jesus transformed the many disciples who saw Him and even ate with Him. In the Gospel of this coming Sunday, the Third Sunday of Easter, we will read of the encounter of two of the disciples with the Risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
Cleopas and his unnamed companion had left Jerusalem sad, disappointed, and confused. But their encounter with the Risen Lord transformed them. They experienced a conversion from despair to hope and from sorrow to joy. This is what happens in our life, a journey not unlike the disciples’ journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Our lives can become immersed in doubt, sadness, and disappointment. This happens especially when we leave Jerusalem, that is, when we drift away from the Jerusalem of the Crucified and Risen One, no longer believing in the power and in the living presence of the Lord. We can be like the Emmaus disciples and say: “we had hoped in Jesus of Nazareth.” “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” The crucifixion and death of Jesus had shattered their hope. When we experience sorrow and suffering in our life or the problems of injustice and evil, we can be tempted to lose hope and depart from Jerusalem, even leave the Church. Yet, the Risen Lord seeks to walk with us, to illuminate the journey of our life, to teach us and give us hope.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus allowed this man whom they did not recognize to walk with them and to teach them. He explained the Scriptures to them. He helped them to understand the Law and the prophets. He showed them that the Scriptures revealed that the Messiah would suffer and then enter into His glory. St. Luke tells us that “Jesus interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” This encounter with the teaching of Jesus fascinated the two disciples. It made their hearts burn within them. They didn’t want Him to leave them. They urged Jesus, whom they still did not recognize, to stay with them. “Stay with us,” they said, “for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”
The encounter with Jesus in His word can also fascinate us. It illumines our minds and warms our hearts. It helps us to interpret the events of life and give them meaning. The Lord indeed walks beside us and explains the Scriptures to us, helping us to understand the great mystery. And this can make our hearts burn within us as we discover more deeply, more profoundly, the truth and beauty of our faith. What a blessing that we, like the Emmaus disciples, can encounter the Risen One who transforms our life, by listening to His word!
The Lord accepted the disciples’ urgent invitation to stay with them. He sat down to eat with them. St. Luke tells us: “while He was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” It was the very same action Jesus performed at the Last Supper. And it was with that “that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.” Jesus had enlightened them by His word and then He broke the bread with them. He re-enacted the Last Supper with them. This was the climax of His encounter with the two disciples. He revealed His identity to them in the breaking of the bread. This is what restored to them the gaze of faith. And so it is in our lives. When we invite the Lord to stay with us, He accepts the invitation. He not only walks with us and teaches us through the Scriptures, He breaks bread with us. In the mystery of the Eucharist, we too recognize Him.
After the disciples recognized Him, Jesus vanished from their sight. But He stays with them; He stays with us; He stays with the Church, hidden in the breaking of the bread, at every Mass. Jesus promised: “I will be with you always until the end of the world.” Indeed, the Lord is present in every tabernacle of the world even until the end of time. The Eucharist is the great sacrament in which the Risen Lord remains with us and fills our Christian journey with hope.
The encounter with Jesus in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread is not the end of the story. The two disciples left Emmaus at once and returned to Jerusalem, where they told the other disciples what had taken place. They shared with them their experience, their encounter with the Risen Lord. We who have encountered the Risen Lord cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced. We are called to share that joy, the joy of the Gospel. We are charged to go forth to work for the spread of the Gospel. We are sent on mission. The dismissal at the end of Mass reminds us of this. “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” The Eucharist gives us the interior strength for this mission. Through us, the hope of the Gospel is meant to be spread throughout society and culture. The Holy Spirit guides and strengthens us for this mission. This is the grace we received at Confirmation: to bear witness to Christ in our words and deeds.
The journey of the two disciples to Emmaus and then back to Jerusalem is our journey, the Church’s journey. It is a journey that moves from despair to hope, from confusion to clarity, from sadness to joy. It is the journey of conversion, the journey of the Christian life. The prayer for the journey is the prayer of the two disciples: “Stay with us, Lord!” The Lord always answers this prayer. He is with us always. He walks at our side. He opens to us the Scriptures and He remains with us in the Eucharist, the great mystery of His presence, “the perfect fulfillment of His promise to remain with us until the end of the world” (St. John Paul II, Mane nobiscum Domine).