The Emmaus Encounter: Meeting the Risen Lord Today
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
After his Resurrection Jesus appeared to his apostles and disciples, first of all and above all to convince them that, though he had really died and had been buried for three days, he had nevertheless risen and was now truly alive and would still be with them, always, till the end of time, (his concluding promise in the Gospel narrative, Mt 28:20). For on that his assurance and their persuasion would rest their faith on him and their trust in him as their Risen Saviour and Lord.
This is related in all the four Apparition Narratives in the concluding Gospel chapters (Mt 28, Mk 16, Lk 24 and Jn 20 & 21), but ever so poignantly in the endearing Lucan narrative of the 'stranger' (Jesus) catching up with the two disciples, who were on their way back home in their village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, with downcast eyes and a heavy heart. In answer to his query, they said that they were sad because of a deep personal loss, which is always man's greatest loss. For their friend and master, "a prophet, mighty in word and deed before God and the whole people" (Lk 24:19), was no more, having been put to a sudden and unexpected death by a cruel crucifixion. And they were dejected because of an unforeseen failure, which is often man's greatest disappointment. For his promise of setting Israel free and restoring its Kingdom was now not fulfilled, setting to naught their hopes and expectations. Thus they poured out their heart to that 'stranger', but "they failed to recognize him" as their Jesus (24:11). Why?
Jesus had just gone through his Passover - the exodus and journey from his human life of weakness, now resurrected through death, to a divine life of power. His disciples, who had known him as a mere man like themselves, had also to go through their own 'Passover' so that they could recognise him as their Risen Lord. For any one, who wants to follow him all the way to glory, must renounce himself, take up his cross, and follow him all the way in agony. He had now to teach them this, his last lesson, before his departure to his Father. How?
Firstly, after listening to them attentively, he spoke with them on the road in order to open and enlighten their slow and dull minds to understand the scriptures, which had already foretold the recent events in Jerusalem (24:44-45), and to help them to believe the message of the prophets that the Christ should first suffer all this and so enter into his glory? (24:25,26). Hearing all this explanation of scripture about himself, their hearts too were now burning within them, but they were still unable to recognise him (24:27,32). This tells us that knowing the Bible is necessary to set our minds alight and our hearts aflame, but it is not enough. It is not an end in itself; it is only the first step.
Secondly, even though Jesus took the initiative of coming up and walking by their side and talking to them, they did something more important than just listening to him. They invited the 'stranger' to their home, after they had made his Word their home (Jn 8:31). Jesus too did something even more important than just speaking to them. "While he was with them at table, he took the bread and blessed it; then he broke it and handed it to them" (24:30).
Then only "their eyes were opened and they recognized him" (24:31a), not just as the Jesus, who had preached everywhere and had healed everyone, but as the Jesus who at his last Passover Supper had given his body to be broken for them and had offered his blood to be shed for them (Lk 22:19,20). They now knew that the same Jesus, dead and buried, had risen, was alive and, to their own great joy, still present with them, choosing them to join in the First Supper of the Risen Lord. Even more they now understood that the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus were a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, and that one could not enter the eternal life of heaven without passing through the momentary death on earth. (24:44).
Thirdly, now that they had both heard him speak of the Paschal Mystery with their own ears and seen him re-enact that same Mystery with their own eyes, "He then vanished from their sight" (24:31b). But that did not upset them. Doubt, fear and sadness had given place to faith, confidence and joy. They got up instantly, even at that late hour, and hurried back with excitement to Jerusalem, which they had earlier left with slow dragging steps. For they could not keep to themselves their breathtaking experience. They had to share it with the other disciples.
While they were still sharing excitedly with one another, Jesus appeared to them as they were all together, now dumbfounded with joy and incredulity. He charged them to go forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness to all the nations, promising that he would empower them with the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses. How the two disciples of Emmaus must have been filled with great joy knowing that, Jesus' work being in a way now over and his physical presence now not needed, he trusted them sufficiently to entrust them with being the visible sign of his invisible presence on earth and the trustworthy channel of his power working among men!
Today, we will not be able to see Jesus in the way the Apostles saw him when he was on earth. But like the two disciples of Emmaus, and all true disciples after them, we too can encounter the Risen Lord in the Divine Word, the Eucharistic Worship and the Church Community; and we too can evangelize the world through his Word Power, his Eucharistic Presence and the Community Witness - all this by the action of the Holy Spirit and through the intercession of Mother Mary. To enable us to do this, the Church continues the identical mission of Jesus. How?
Firstly, she invites us as individual members to hear his voice by listening attentively to the Word of God proclaimed at Mass and reading it prayerfully at home, thus enabling us to understand and meditate on its message (Lectio Divina), so that it enlightens our minds and penetrates our hearts, leading us ultimately to beholding his face in contemplative prayer. We are thus prepared and motivated to share that same word at the family meal and prayer and ultimately in each one's Small Christian Community (SCC).
Secondly, she calls us together to celebrate, in acclamations and with jubilation, the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrificial Offering of Praise and Intercession, in communion with the Divine Trinity, as the Family of God, the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit; and in communion with the Triune Church: triumphant (the Saints): suffering (especially our dear departed); and militant, our Parish Community. We will thus become according to the third Eucharistic Prayer, 'one Spirit, one Body in Christ', for the Lord has made an open declaration, "Whenever two or three of you meet in my name, I am there with you" (Mt 18:20).
Thirdly, she sends us forth to share the Good News of his Resurrection and our Redemption with the World around us by Word, Worship and Witness! We are to come down with the Apostles from the Mount Tabor of our Eucharistic Transfiguration to the Galilean Plains of the Cana and Capernaum Evangelistic Encounters, and with the Good Samaritan from the heights of the blissful Jerusalem to the depths of the dismal Jericho of the destitute and the wounded, the helpless babies and the hopeless aged. It is not enough to call upon the name of the Lord but we need to obey in that name. For the Lord has made a solemn promise, "When any two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, my Father in heaven will do it for you" (Mt 18:19).
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