THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER (2020)
Acts of the Apostles 2:14, 22-28
Psalms 16:1-2, 5, 7-11
1 Peter 1:17-21
In addition to his contributions to the infancy narratives, the Evangelist Luke has some of the most memorable stories in Scripture: the story of the Prodigal Son, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and today’s gospel story of the travelers on their way to Emmaus. Perhaps today’s gospel story is all the more poignant since it takes place within the days just after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. It is a quintessential Easter story, as it starts out in despair and ends in the the far reaching joy that originates in Christ’s resurrection.
Notice that Luke places the Emmaus story on the “first day of the week,” the very day of Jesus’ resurrection. One can understand their conversation as they left town – for who could not have known of the three crucifixions on Golgotha, including that of Jesus, a man they had put so much of their hopes in? They recognized Jesus as a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God,” and they numbered themselves as His disciples. They were hoping that Jesus “would be the one to redeem Israel,” and the sight of the empty tomb filled them with no hope “because Him [Jesus] they did not see.”
Jesus clearly made good company, in spite of calling them “foolish,” as He opened their eyes to all “that the prophets spoke.” “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” So enthralled were the two disciples that they prevailed upon Jesus to stay with them, in spite of Jesus appearing to desire “going on farther.” Perhaps Jesus knew that His job here was not quite done. They still did not recognize Him as the focus of their hopes and dreams, and that would not happen until they sat with Him at table, when “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight.”
By the time Luke was writing his gospel, the local communities of believers were gathering together in what they called ‘Agape’ meals, from the Greek term for ‘love’ in its broadest sense. It was a time of fellowship for believers in Jesus, who needed support and a feeling of solidarity. Persecution by both Jews (religious leadership/martyrdom of Stephen, Acts 7:54-60) and pagans (civil leadership) had already been experienced. The coming together for a shared meal, and a primitive form of the Eucharist which involved the blessing of bread and wine as Jesus had done at His Last Supper, was an essential part of the growth of the early church.
Luke was clearly making a statement about those primitive Eucharistic gatherings when Luke had his traveling disciples finally recognize Jesus for who He was when He broke the bread. The language is the same to this day: “He took the bread, broke the bread, and gave it to His disciples saying, take this and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.” Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, every time we gather together for the Eucharist we have a privileged moment with Jesus, a time to sit across the table from the very God in whom we place all of our hopes. He is the God who greets our loved ones when they leave this earthly realm; He is the God who is capable of bringing the Easter gift of genuine peace to a world which is so often troubled and disturbed; He is the God who raises up those who are bowed down and who exults the poor, lonely, and disenfranchised; He is the God who can make justice triumph and truth prevail. Especially during this time when the celebrations of the Eucharist as we knew them are so few and far between, we must cultivate an appreciation of how privileged we are to sit across the table from the Lord, our God, King of heaven and earth. What a precious gift we have in the Eucharist.
Lastly, it is important to note a very simple point made by Luke’s story about the disciples on the way to Emmaus – Jesus makes the best of companions! Jesus appears to have broken into their journey like an uninvited guest, but I would like to believe that He was with them from the very start, even though they were unaware. Jesus wants to break into our lives as well, He desires to travel with us. The Eucharist and our private reading of the Scriptures gives us the opportunity to understand the Scriptures better, and to recognize the depth of God’s plan for us which begins long before the Book of Genesis. Jesus is the fulfillment of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and all the prophets, and what we commemorate during this Easter season celebrates that fulfillment. We are meant to be like the Emmaus disciples who could proclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”
Jesus wants to accompany us on this journey we call life, and He is the best of companions. May we ask Him, as the Emmaus disciples did, to “Stay with us,” that we might never be led astray, and that we might never feel alone.