‘Then they told ... how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread’ … the ‘Road to Emmaus’ icon by Sister Marie Paul OSB of the Mount of Olives Monastery, Jerusalem (1990), commissioned by Father Thomas Rosica
Sunday 30 April 2017,
The Third Sunday of Easter
11 a.m., Castletown Church, Pallaskenry,
United Group Service, The Eucharist.
Readings: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41 or Isaiah 43: 1-12; Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; I Peter 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 13-35.
In the name of + the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Some years ago, during a world Synod of Bishops on the Bible, the Bible story quoted most often was the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus.
According to a Canadian theologian, Father Thomas Rosica, who does much of the Vatican PR work on television, this Gospel story kept coming up at the synod in Rome in 2008 because so many bishops and other synod members saw it as the perfect example of what the Church must do with the Scriptures: discuss them with people, explain them and let them lead people to recognise Jesus.
Father Pascual Chavez Villanueva, then the Superior General of the Salesians, who have a house near here in Pallaskenry, told the synod that the story shows evangelisation, sharing the good news of the Gospel, the good news of the Risen Christ, takes place by walking alongside people, listening to their sorrows, and then giving them a word of hope and a community in which to live it.
Father Chavez told the synod that today’s young people definitely share with the disciples ‘the frustration of their dreams, the tiredness of their faith and being disenchanted with discipleship.’ They ‘need a church that walks alongside them where they are.’
But perhaps he could have gone further. I think this applies to so many people whose dreams have been frustrated, whose faith has become tired, who have failed to find the Church walking alongside them.
The story of Christ and the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus is a very rich one and one that offers us a model for Christian life and travelling on the pilgrimage that is Christianity.
After seeing all their hopes shattered on Good Friday, two disciples – Cleopas and another unnamed disciple – head out of Jerusalem, figuratively turn their back on Jerusalem, and walk away from it all. As their make their way together, they are walking and talking on the road.
Emmaus was about seven miles from Jerusalem, so it would have taken them two hours, perhaps, to walk there, maybe more if they were my age.
Somewhere along the way, they are joined by a third person, ‘but their eyes were kept from recognising him’ (verse 16, NRSV), or to be more precise, as the Greek text says, ‘but their eyes were being held so that they did not recognise him.’
These two cannot make sense of what has happened over the last few days, and they cannot make sense of the questions their new companion puts to them. When Christ asks them a straight question, they look sad and downcast.
I get the feeling that Cleopas is a bit cynical, describing Jesus as a visitor and responding to Jesus as if he really does not know what has happened in Jerusalem. In his cynicism, Cleopas almost sounds like Simon the Pharisee who asks Jesus when he is dining with him whether he really knows who the woman with the alabaster jar is.
Like Simon that evening, Cleopas and his friend once thought of Jesus as a Prophet. But now they doubt it. And the sort of Messiah they hoped for was not the sort of Messiah Jesus had been preparing them for, was he?
And they have heard the report of the women visiting the tomb, and finding it empty. Hearing is not believing. Seeing is not believing. And believing is not the same as faith.
When I find myself disagreeing fundamentally with people, I wonder do I listen even half as patiently as Christ did with these two.
There are no interruptions, no corrections, no up-braidings. Christ listens attentively and patiently, like all good counsellors should, and only speaks when they have finished speaking.
And then, despite their cynicism, despite their failure to understand, despite their lack of faith, these two disciples do something extraordinary. They press the stranger in their company not to continue on his journey. It is late in the evening, and they invite him to join them.
On re-reading this story I found myself comparing their action and their hospitality with the Good Samaritan who comes across the bruised and battered stranger on the side of the road, and offers him healing hospitality, offering to pay for his meals and his accommodation in the inn.
These two have also come across a bruised and battered stranger on the road, and they offer him healing and hospitality, they offer him a meal and accommodation in the inn.
Christ had once imposed himself on Zacchaeus and presumes on his hospitality. Now Cleopas and his companion insist on imposing their hospitality on Christ. The guest becomes the host and the host becomes the guest, once again.
Christ goes in to stay with them. And it is not just a matter of finding him a room for the night. They dine together.
And so, in a manner that is typical of the way Saint Luke tells his stories, the story of the road to Emmaus ends with a meal with Christ.
And at the meal – as he did with the multitude on the hillside, and with the disciples in the Upper Room – Christ takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to those at the table with him (verse 30).
Their time in the wilderness is over, the Lenten preparation has been completed. The one who has received their hospitality now invites them to receive the hospitality of God, and to join him at the Heavenly Banquet.
Their journey continues. Our journey continues. Christ is not physically present with us on the road. But we recognise him in the breaking of the bread. And we, being many, become one body, for we all share in the one bread.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in Co Limerick and Co Kerry.
The Resurrection, by the 15th-century artist Piero della Francesca, is in the civic museum, formerly the town hall, in the Tuscan market-town of Borgo San Sepolcro
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Post-Communion Prayer:
your Son made himself known to his disciples
in the breaking of bread.
Open the eyes of our faith,
that we may see him in all his redeeming work;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Luke 24: 13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognising him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.