On most Sundays during the Easter season in Cycle A, our Gospel is taken from the Gospel of John. This week’s Gospel, however, is taken from the Gospel of Luke. As in last week’s Gospel, today’s Gospel shows us how the first community of disciples came to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. In these stories, we gain insight into how the community of the Church came to be formed.
The evening of the first day of the week two disciples set out on a journey, in Jerusalem, women have been coming and going, some exclaiming that they have seen the Lord, others recounting the words of angels. John and Peter run to the tomb only to find it empty. Confusion comes in and out of the house during the morning hours. Is it possible? Can we believe what these emotional women are telling us?
Cleopas and his companion confused and heavy-hearted, start on the trip down from Jerusalem. Luke tells us that Emmaus was about 10-12 kilometres from Jerusalem. As they continue the walk, someone else appears next to them, and they wonder why they had not heard or seen him before. He says to them, “What have you been discussing?”
It’s their turn to be astounded. The greatest and saddest event of their lives had occurred in the last three days. How was it possible that there were people left in their world who didn’t know? In our own experience when a beloved person dies, it is difficult to understand how the earth still spins and the sun still rises and life goes on.
Their reaction is perfectly natural. Cleopas asks the stranger: “Where have you been? Are you the only one who hasn’t heard what happened in the past three days? The best of men, a great prophet, one who did nothing but good, was killed. We had hoped he was our liberator.” The stranger is quiet, listening. The other jumps in. “But something else happened earlier this morning. Friends of ours went to his tomb and found it empty.” She hesitates, both excited and doubtful. “The women saw a vision of angels. And the angels told them—he’s alive.” His voice moves from excitement to bewilderment.
The stranger doesn’t pause but keeps walking and they follow, mystified. And then they hear his words: “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow your hearts are to believe all that the prophets have told you!” And now they listen as the stranger tells them stories from their long history and tradition, from the Exodus to the prophets to their own time. They hear the references to God’s anointed and, little by little, they understand that he is talking about their friend and teacher, and now everything falls into place: Jesus’ words about himself as he taught them and as he healed so many; Jesus’ continued references to his Father; Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion. They understand that all this, even Jesus’ death, had been God’s plan from the beginning, and now hope fills them that not all is lost.
But time passes so quickly as they listen to his words! They are almost at their village. The stranger offers his farewell and makes as if to continue but they don’t want him to go. They say “Look, sir, it will soon be night. Please, come and stay with us.” And the stranger does not refuse. In the manner of Middle Eastern people through the ages, they invite him to eat with them, and he agrees. There is a loaf of bread next to the water and wine. He reaches for the bread and, they watch as he prays, breaks the bread and offers it to them. They cry out, “it is the Lord!” Recognition now fills them because of the familiar gesture of the Beloved, but now he is gone from their presence. His work is done but they are bereft. How is it that they had not recognized him all those hours he walked with them? They are ashamed. But that doesn’t last long. They have seen the Lord. They must share it with the others. Despite their tired legs, they return to Jerusalem.
They go to the same house where earlier they had left their fear-filled friends. But now they are all awake, rejoicing and sharing the good news with one another. “We have seen the Lord!” It becomes the most joyful refrain, whispered in amazement and then proclaimed in loud conviction. “We have seen the Lord!” Cleopas and his wife add to the chorus: “Yes, he was known to us in the breaking of the bread.”
As was the case for Cleopas and the other disciple that first Eastertide, the way to Jesus may not be obvious or simple.
Because of their example, however, we have been taught to keep looking, ever alert to the possibility of his surprising, entirely unexpected appearance in our midst.
As the text in the Book of Revelation has it “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev. 3:20). In this Eucharist, he is with us as host and as food, as guest and as servant. Let us then open the door of our hearts to receive him, here, now, alive in our midst.