In our Gospel this weekend we hear this very powerful account of two disciples who left Jerusalem for Emmaus the very day of the Resurrection, completely oblivious to what the Lord was doing around them. And as they walk, they’re talking about what had happened – it’s in the past tense. The text says that they were downcast. You could even argue that they might have already been slipping into nostalgia – talking about what once was, what might have been, etc.
So they’re walking away, talking about what had happened, not realising what they’re walking away from. They think the dream is dead – and they’re probably heading back to their home town to pick up the pieces of their old life. Little do they know, the dream is well and truly alive. The problem is, it is so different from what they expected that they can’t see it. Indeed, when Jesus pulls up alongside them, they don’t recognise him – they can’t see what’s right in front of them. They still don’t get what Jesus’ mission and ministry are all about.
Jesus asks them what they were discussing as they walked along, and they tell him the story of all that’s happened—including the rumours of Resurrection—but it’s clear they don’t know what to believe. Then Jesus says something very significant – he upbraids them for being so slow to believe the full message of the prophets. In the original Greek it says he calls them “slow of heart” – essentially, he accuses them of being half-hearted. It’s a heart problem. And he says to them, “Do you not realise that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and die?” It was necessary.
Really? How could it be necessary? Why the cross? These two disciples just couldn’t figure out the cross, just like us most of the time. It’s the thing we always leave out, because it’s so problematic. These poor disciples thought that Jesus’ suffering and death meant that is was all over – that he had lost. Little did they know that it was precisely through the cross that Jesus won his greatest triumph over sin and death.
So Jesus sets out to teach them – to help them see the significance of all that had just happened. And “starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.” Unfortunately we don’t have the seminar notes of what Jesus said to them on the way to Emmaus, but we do have the essence of it. And the essence of what Jesus said to them is this: “The Bible is about me.” The whole Bible—from beginning to end—is about Jesus Christ.
I had the privilege of studying Scripture in some depth for several years as part of my priestly formation, and I have to say that there can be a temptation to get so caught up in all the different ways of approaching the text that you can miss the wood for the trees. “Who wrote this section?” and “who was the audience for that passage?” and “what changes did the redactor make here?” and “how do you parse that verb?” and so on. Don’t get me wrong, all of that stuff is helpful, but it’s possible to get so caught up in it that we miss the most important thing—the very thing that Jesus points out to the disciples on the road—that at the end of the day it’s all about him, and that it leads to the cross.
Once you understand that it’s all about Jesus and that it leads to the cross, you can read it and get it. It’s like getting to the end of a mystery novel when everything is revealed, and then you can then go back and read it again and you notice that the clues were there all along. So Jesus essentially says to them, “the very thing that’s giving you so much trouble—the cross—is the key to the whole thing.” This is why the Church has always said that the whole Bible needs to be read in the light of Christ – because it’s all ultimately about him and the victory he would win on the cross. So Jesus walks the disciples through it all—through all of salvation history—and he helps them see how he is the key to understanding it all.
Then they get to Emmaus, the disciples invite him in, and at the breaking of the bread they recognise him. At the breaking of the bread it’s no longer past tense – it’s now present tense. “I will be with you until the end of the age.” And guess how I will be with you until the end of the age? Not in some esoteric doctrine that can only be understood by people with PhDs… but in a little piece of bread. Jesus is with us—in the most remarkable way—in the Eucharist.
A friend of mine likes to imagine that one time when Jesus was off by himself praying to the Father, his prayer went something like this: “I’ve been on reconnaissance here, I’ve looked around, I’ve looked at what we have to work with, and the one thing I can tell you is that whatever we leave them to keep them going when I’m gone… it had better be idiot-proof!”
Well I’m happy to tell you that the Eucharist is idiot-proof. It’s the most amazing thing, and in order for us to get it, all we have to do is do it… and keep on doing it. I mean, theological reflection on the Eucharist certainly has its place, but it’s not our job to figure out the Eucharist. Jesus didn’t say, “Take this and figure it out.” He said, “Take this and eat it.” The Church has been carrying out this command of Jesus for two thousand years, and the fact that we aren’t currently able to gather to celebrate the Eucharist as a parish—and the pain this is causing us—only highlights all-the-more just how central the Eucharist really is in our lives as followers of Christ.
At the breaking of the bread a remarkable transformation happened in the two disciples at Emmaus. The text says that “their eyes were opened”, and they “set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem.” These two disciples who only shortly before were anxious to go inside because it was nearly evening, set out that instant to make the seven-mile journey back to Jerusalem to share the Good News. Why? Because their hearts were “burning within them” upon their encounter with the risen Lord. Pray with all your heart for such a grace. Pray that you too might encounter the risen Lord in such a way that your hearts burn within you, and that this fire propels you to set out into the “dark nights” of our world to share the Good News.
Because—it has to be said—so many people in our culture are like the disciples at the start of this passage. They’re drifting away—just as the disciples were walking away from Jerusalem—because it doesn’t make sense. And so if, like Jesus in this passage, we are able to explain to folks that it is the Person of Jesus Christ who definitively makes sense of human history—and indeed the entire human experience—if we are able to communicate something of that to people who are drifting away, and they are subsequently able to encounter him – I’ve seen it many times – they too can come hustling back to the Lord with hearts on fire.
So let us pray that each of us—and our parish community as a whole—may be able to relive the experience of these disciples on the way to Emmaus, and in so doing to rediscover the grace of a transforming encounter with the Risen Lord.
A few notices and links:
– Office hours this week: 9am-12:30pm Monday to Friday. On Tuesdays and Fridays either Fr Matteo or myself will be in the office throughout opening hours and available for reconciliation or a chat without an appointment (we continue to be available at many other times with an appointment).
– Archbishop Costelloe’s 11am Sunday Mass can be viewed on the following platforms:
– The Planned Giving envelopes for the coming year have arrived and are ready to be picked up from the parish office (folks down in Serpentine can pick theirs up from the front of Pat Kellett’s place).
– My piano song for this week – an ANZAC Day rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”:
– Here’s a thoughtful interview with well-known composer Arvo Pärt about the impact of the coronavirus:
– And lastly, for a glimpse of the beauty of Catholicism for this week, here’s some remarkable footage of the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel off the Normandy coast: https://youtu.be/-rhtVj0gJMU