Sunday, April 23, 2023
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14, 22-23
1 Peter 1: 17-21
Luke 24: 13-35
The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!
In February, I had the opportunity to take a vacation of a couple weeks to visit my family in Colombia. As I let my parishioners know about my time off and asked for their prayers for safe travels, some of the most frequent questions they asked were: What are you looking forward to the most when you go back home? What do you miss the most about Colombia? What is the first thing you are going to do or want to do when you are there?
It is amazing that the “thing” that Jesus wanted to do before he offered himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins — and the first “thing” he wanted to do after destroying death by rising from the death — was to celebrate Mass.
In the Gospel, we read how St. Luke, a masterful storyteller, incisively describes how the disciples had completely lost their bearings and sense of spiritual direction in the overwhelming aftermath of Jesus’ death: “They stopped, looking downcast.” (Luke 24:17) They lost their hope in Jesus who, according to what they hoped for, was going to take the throne of David here on earth. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” (Luke 24:21) but they witness “how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him,” (24:20) and what seemed worse, “and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.” (24:21) Here is where Jesus entered into their lives again, but they failed to recognize their Lord. Responding to his question about their conversation, the men explained their confusion. Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word,” and yet he had not fulfilled their hope for redemption. (24:21) In addition to this disappointment, there was the added mystery of the empty tomb, although they apparently hadn’t reached a conclusion about what it might actually mean.
Jesus reproached them and took them to the Scriptures, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets,” (24:27) to show them the true nature and mission of “the Christ.” There are several passages that Jesus likely showed them, including Deuteronomy 18:15, which promised “a prophet” like Moses; Psalm 2:7, a Messianic psalm; and Isaiah 53, which describes the suffering servant, as well as others. The disciples had to be shown that salvation and glory wouldn’t come through political might or social upheaval, but through humiliation, suffering, through the apparent defeat of the cross.
Thus, on the road to Emmaus, there was a relearning on the part of the disciples, who heard a deeper explanation of the Scriptures than they had heard many times before. This was necessary in order for them to really grasp the significance of the cross and its life-giving, soul-transforming meaning. This education came from the very one who sent the prophets and gave them words; who better than the Word Incarnate to illuminate the meaning of the sacred text? The narrative follows a distinct pattern of questioning, dialogue and exposition of Scripture, leading to a sacrament, which is a pattern Luke uses again in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. (Acts 8)
The disciples finally recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. St. Luke purposefully uses the same description of Jesus’ actions — “he took bread, said a blessing, broke it and gave it to them”—as he does in his account of the Last Supper. (Luke 22:19-20) The recognition was a gift of grace, and it was intimately linked with the reality of the Eucharist, which is why they later told the others how Christ “was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” (22:35)
The story of the encounter on the road to Emmaus includes all of the essential elements of the liturgy: Scripture, prayer, blessing and the breaking of bread. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the “Eucharistic celebration always includes: the proclamation of the Word of God; thanksgiving to God the Father for all his benefits, above all the gift of his Son; the consecration of bread and wine; and participation in the liturgical banquet by receiving the Lord’s body and blood.” These elements, it emphasizes, “constitute one single act of worship.” (CCC 1408)
Every person hungers for this act of worship, for we were made to worship God and to be nourished with the Eucharist. God, in his goodness, responds to that hunger by accepting our worship and feeding us with his body, blood, soul and divinity, every time we come to Mass.
In the midst of the disciples’ confusion and blindness, Jesus sought them out, offered himself to them and opened their eyes. He wishes to meet all of us on our road: he wants us to meet him, know him and love him in the breaking of the bread.