October 6, 2005
Of all the stories Luke ever told of the Risen Lord, the most memorable is the Emmaus account (Lk 24: 13-35). This is the most detailed and most beautiful of all the Resurrection stories in the New Testament. One question pained second generation Christians. How can they experience the presence of the Risen Lord? John responded to this question with the appearance of the Risen Lord to Thomas a week after Easter. In that account, the Risen Lord pronounces blessed “those who have not seen and yet believe”(Jn 20:29). Luke gives us the Emmaus narrative as his answer to the same question.
Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple have left Jerusalem. Sad. Downcast. Christ has been crucified. He is dead. Their hopes now entombed with him. But it is Easter Sunday. And in Jerusalem, the tomb is empty.
On the road they travel, the Risen Lord draws near and joins their journey to Emmaus. The best tradition places Emmaus about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem. As they walk, they talk. Every other time the Risen Lord appears, he speaks a word and he is recognized.
At the tomb on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene weeps. Jesus speaks one word, “Mary.” And she falls down in adoration (cf Jn 20:11-18). In the upper room, he tells the doubting Thomas, “Put your fingers into my wounds.” And Thomas immediately confesses, “My Lord and my God”(cf Jn 20:19-29). But here there is something very unusual.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to the two disciples. He initiates a conversation with them. And they simply do not recognize him. The two disciples walk and talk to Jesus. He explains all the Scriptures that foretell his death. Their hearts burn within. Yet they still do not recognize him. HE IS PRESENT. YET HE IS HIDDEN.
Only slowly, gradually does Jesus lead them, gently instruct them, and share their journey. He is patient with their slow understanding, their halting faith. Jesus does not hurry or hasten the moment for them to embrace his Presence.
Emmaus is the Resurrection Appearance of Divine Patience. And the EUCHARIST IS THE SACRAMENT OF DIVINE PATIENCE.
In the Eucharist, Jesus is with us. He is the Risen Lord before us. All the while, he speaks to us. In the depths of our heart quieted from the cares of the world, he makes his presence known. In our mind searching for truth, he speaks the truth of his abiding love beyond words.
Love never compels. Love never coerces a response. This great sacrament is Jesus loving us, waiting for us to question — Jesus longing for us to invite him to remain with him like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
As Cleopas and the other disciples listen to Jesus, they say, “Stay with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent” (Lk 24:29). They welcome him to table. And once at table, the tables get turned around. It is the paradox of the Incarnation. The Guest becomes the Host. Jesus takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks and gives it to them. In that familiar gesture, they recognize the Lord.
In table fellowship, the disciples discover the Lord. In a very clear way, this event reverses the parable of the Dives and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). The rich man feasts sumptuously every day. He is so self-absorbed that he does not notice the poor man begging at his doorstep. He has so much. He shares nothing. When he dies and goes off to Sheol, he pleads with Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers. Abraham refuses. They already have Moses and the prophets. If they do not listen to them, they would not listen even if someone should return from the dead.
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus, Risen from the dead, explains to the two disciples all that is written in Moses and the prophets about himself. They listen. And with open heart, they invite him to table. Notice. It is only when they take on the attitude of generosity and giving, of welcoming the stranger; it is when the two disciples take on the attitude of Jesus himself, it is then that Jesus reveals his Presence.
Here is a profound truth about the Eucharist. Here is the reason why this is the Sacrament of Divine Patience. The Risen Lord is truly present. Not symbolically, but really present—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Present and hidden. Christ is truly with us. When we come before him, when we stay long enough, often enough and still enough, then we are right in his sight. For His Spirit slowly transforms our hearts.
Gradually we become more like him—more open, more generous, more caring and compassionate. We become more giving, even to the point of sacrificing ourselves for others. And all the while, Jesus waits. He waits until the moment we have the same attitude he has for us. And when we do, in that moment, he reveals himself to us. Our eyes are opened and our life becomes an Emmaus journey with the Lord.