4 May 2014
“Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how [Jesus] was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” (Luke 24:35) In the name …
This past Monday Sharon and I drove out to Logan airport to pick-up Amanda after her trip to see her sister in Prague. I’m a very inexperienced traveler. We got to the airport and surprisingly had no trouble finding the right terminal. We checked on Amanda’s arrival time and saw that we had a little less than a half hour to wait. So we sat down and waited. I was looking for my cousin while we were sitting there because his son Eddie was Amanda’s traveling companion. I figured he’d be there waiting too just like Sharon and I. Now, my cousin is the exact opposite of me. He’s a constant traveler. His job takes him all over the place all the time. Flights to and from Europe are nothing out of the ordinary for him. After a while I got a call on my cell phone. It’s the cousin I’m looking for. He wants to know where Sharon and I are. We told him that we were at the Lufthansa gate waiting for the kids and looking for him. Then he asks dryly, “Are you guys upstairs?” To which I answered in the affirmative. Then he asked me to look at the sign at the gate where I was sitting. I said, “Yeah, it’s Lufthansa.” Then I read the rest of the sign. It was Lufthansa departures, not arrivals. We were so close, but not quite there.
Let me now jump to the story of Jesus’ Easter day appearance on the Road to Emmaus. According to Luke, the tomb had been found empty early that morning. The women went back to the disciples to let them know. But the disciples thought the women were hysterical and they refused to believe. Then Luke tells us this unique story that is found nowhere else in the Bible: the Road to Emmaus story. It’s now about mid-afternoon on that first Easter. Two disciples of Jesus are walking to Emmaus. Jesus begins to walk beside them and engages them in conversation. Again we hear that the resurrected Jesus doesn’t look “resurrected.” Last week Mary Magdalene mistook Him for a gardener. This week the two disciples think of Him as just another traveler. They reach Emmaus around dinner time and the two disciples invite Jesus to stay with them. Then the miracle happens. In words that should sound extremely familiar to us, Luke says Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them.” That’s a not subtle reference to Jesus at the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. As soon as Jesus says these words, the Bible tells us that the eyes of the disciples were opened and they recognized Jesus.
This is a wonderful and evocative account, and it becomes even more so when we realize that it isn’t so much a story about Cleopas and some unnamed companion. It is about us. It isn’t about the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus 2,000 years ago. It is about the road from our homes to this place this morning. Luke writes his Gospel about 50 years after Easter. It’s possible that not a single person in his community had any connection with Jesus of Nazareth during His lifetime, and likewise no one had any firsthand experience of Jesus’ resurrection. Time and place were making such first hand witnesses harder and harder to find. It is very probable though that Luke’s community gathered together in scattered homes to share in the evening meal. And during that meal someone from the community, most likely the owner of the home in which they were gathered, would take the bread, say a blessing, break it and share it among the community while repeating Jesus’ words from the Last Supper. The purpose of the Road to Emmaus story is to reveal to that community of believers and to ours that the resurrection is not limited only to those who lived in the past. The resurrected Jesus, says Luke, is present to anyone at any time who receives Holy Communion. As the eyes of the two disciples were opened in Emmaus so could anyone’s eyes be opened to see Jesus when they break bread together at Mass no matter where, no matter when.
Just as the ordinary looking traveler came to be recognized as the risen Saviour, so can the basics of bread and wine be recognized as our chance to enter into Holy Communion with Christ. In this sense, 50 years after Easter is a long time ago, but it’s not all that different than 2014. The people Luke is speaking to are in the same situation as we are today. They wanted to know Jesus, and Luke pointed them to the Eucharist. Just as the eyes of the two disciples in Emmaus were opened and they finally recognized Jesus at the breaking of bread so we hope and pray that our eyes may be opened and we may still see Jesus when we approach the altar to receive Holy Communion. Remember that Mary Magdalene only saw a gardener and the two disciples only saw another traveler. It is faith that opens our eyes to the presence of Christ. We may see only a wafer and a cup, but the promise of Jesus in the sacrament of the altar is as real as any Easter vision ... if we have faith.
Sharon and I got to the right terminal at Logan Airport this past Monday, but if we had stayed where we were we would have been in the wrong place to meet Amanda. It was a call from my cousin that alerted us to look harder. Today’s Gospel is also the call to look harder. Coming to Mass is not a spectator sport. Coming to Mass is our chance to focus on God. If we sit and watch the Mass, if we don’t participate, if we don’t pray and reflect, if we put our bodies in the pews but our minds are somewhere else, then like the example of Sharon and me this past Monday, we’ll be at the right terminal, but the wrong gate. The Road to Emmaus story is the call to open our eyes so that we can see Jesus. That was the purpose of Luke’s writing back in the year 80 and it’s still his purpose in the year 2014. May we be Cleopas and his companion, and may our eyes be opened at the breaking of bread here this morning so that we can see Jesus among us still. For this we pray in His most holy of names. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo