THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
USCCB link to all three readings
That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus' disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
"What are you discussing as you walk along?"
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
"Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?"
And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"
They said to him,
"The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?"
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, "Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over."
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
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.
Then they said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
"The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
It is unfortunate that due to my schedule I can’t give this Gospel a fuller examination, but I would like to point out two critical points. The first is the discussion of Jesus (unrecognized) with two demoralized disciples. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus know a great deal: they know that Jesus of Nazareth was a great prophet whose words and deeds were true to the Father. They knew the details of his trial. They were close enough to Jesus to hope that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Moreover, they knew a great deal about the Easter morning confusion from their own eyewitness experience: they were aware that women had gone to the tomb early in the morning and discovered it was empty, and that the women had seen a vision of angels who announced that Jesus was alive. The disciples themselves went to see the empty tomb. These two men were not peripheral walk-ons. Luke’s text describes them as insiders who had witnessed about everything there was to see.
But they did not connect the dots. As Luke observes, they were “looking downcast.” And Jesus was none too pleased, calling them “foolish” and hard of heart, as if they were fighting inside themselves to whether to dare believe that their greatest hopes had been fulfilled. Jesus goes on “to interpret to them what was referred to him in all the Scriptures.” Clearly this is a factual impossibility and we have to understand this text as Luke intended it, that Jesus must be understood in the context of the entire (Hebrew) Scripture. What the Scriptures actually teach is that “it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things.” The Greek word for “it was necessary” is dei, which implies destiny or preordination. It was preordained in the Scriptures all along, is Jesus’ point, and in this narrative, he brings them up to speed within an afternoon. It is quite possible here that Luke is describing the gradual growth of awareness of the nascent Christian Church in the full meaning of Jesus.
The second critical point in this text is the dinner. Last week I titled the entry, “St. John’s Resurrection Orphans,” John’s description of how Jesus would remain in his Church after he and the apostles would no longer be present, through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. In next Sunday’s Gospel, St. Luke addresses the same question—how will Jesus remain with us—in a different narrative. It should be fairly obvious where Jesus got his table gestures; “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” Our first impulse would be to recall the Last Supper, to be sure, but scholars believe that Luke was also drawing from the formula of actual celebrations of Eucharist in his own locale in about 80 A.D.
The theological significance of Luke’s supper narrative here becomes clearer in the way that the two disciples have their eyes opened and recognize (in the fullest sense) the presence of the risen Jesus. Luke states that Jesus vanished from their sight, but he leaves two things behind. One, obviously, is the broken bread, his broken bread. The second is two previously discouraged disciples whose hearts are burning within them. The word “burning” is a deliberate choice by Luke; in his Acts of the Apostles Luke describes the Holy Spirit as coming down in tongues of fire.
Sunday’s Gospel is the root of the Catholic sacramental experience. Luke establishes that later Christians are not orphans. In fact, they encounter Jesus in the Spirit-filled breaking of the bread. Our Eucharistic prayers at Mass embody Luke’s theology; when the celebrant extends his hands over the bread and wine and says, in several liturgical formulas, “Send forth your Spirit upon these gifts to make them holy,” he is in fact calling the Spirit to unite us in the real encounter with Christ in the eating and the drinking. In the best of all worlds, our eyes are opened to the Lord in our midst in the Eucharist.
The same can be said for all the sacraments the Church has come to celebrate: in all of them our eyes are opened and we see the risen Lord forgiving, healing, marrying, ordaining. The question of Sunday: do we, as individuals and a Church, feel our hearts burning within us in intimacy with Christ in our sacraments? Or are we Resurrection orphans?