Twice in the early Easter Season, the Church has us read about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It’s important for many reasons, including the bit of story that reminds us that we, too, can recognize Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. We should recognize that Christ comes to us, just like he did to those two disciples, at each and every Mass; He makes Himself present on the altar in a profound mystery that ought to amaze us each and every time we witness it.
But something more occurred to me while meditating on this reading this year. Let me first refresh your memory with the reading:
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 the bread.
Often I’ve pondered these disciples. How must they have felt? Why didn’t they understand what Jesus had told them? Why were they leaving, even after the women had given their testimony? And how could they not recognize Jesus Himself?
One answer to the last question, at least, might be that they didn’t expect Him. After all, they’d seen Him die. They’d seen His Body laid in the tomb. Would you expect to see your friend, dead three days, walking along the road? It’s easy for us to say we’d recognize Christ, but let’s face it: He told us that what we do for the least of our brethren, we do for Him. Do you recognize His face in that of the poor? Of the homeless? Of prisoners?
So they weren’t looking for Jesus, even though they’d been His followers. And He came to them. He came looking for them, because He loves them.
But then I realized something more: Christ comes after everyone! The Good Shepherd has sheep from all different flocks; He looks for every stray sheep. And He beckons us all to the safety of His sheepfold.
Those called to His sheepfold are not always aware of it. Atheists don’t realize it, but they, too, are loved and called Home. Some people who have gone through the desert of disbelief can attest to a certain longing – maybe only perceived as a striving towards something just out of reach – that wasn’t fulfilled until they came Home. Home to Christ. Home to His Church.
Like the men walking to Emmaus, their hearts burn within them. They, too, do not recognize Christ when He comes to them. And yet, their hearts burn, for God has written His Laws on our hearts. We are created to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. And whether or not someone realizes this does not change that it is so.
And so, Christ comes to everyone. And many times, He’s not recognized until later (if at all), when you suddenly see God’s fingerprints on the events that have gone on.
When I look at my life, my circumstances, the events around me, I need to be on the lookout for Christ. I need to see in the now how Christ is seeking me out. I need to be more aware when He is with me, even if I don’t recognize Him at first.
When have you sensed that Christ was with you? Have you looked back on a situation and had an Emmaus moment, suddenly realizing that God has been guiding you along a safe path towards Him?