First Reading: Acts 2:14,22-33
Responsorial Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
We are experiencing strange times indeed! The whole world it seems is counting cases, working to flatten the curve, and sheltering at home. In the midst of all of that we have the familiar story of “The Road to Emmaus,” and if you are like me, you are reading it this week in a whole new light. This Gospel is so familiar that we all seem to jump from hearing the word Emmaus to the image of recognizing Christ in the “breaking of the bread.” This familiar scene mirrors the same actions of taking, blessing, breaking and sharing that are used in the last supper. In fact, throughout the Gospel of Luke Jesus is portrayed as the one who nourishes. From the infant Jesus placed in a manger (a feeding trough), to his table fellowship around Galilee sharing meals with every sort of saint and sinner, to the last supper and this resurrection narrative; each story recognizes Jesus as nourishment for the world in need. And yet, here we are in a moment when we cannot celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy together. Those of you who are ordained have the ability to celebrate the liturgy, however, without the full active participation of the people of God. Those of us who are lay people celebrate the liturgy digitally, only able to view the celebration from a distance. Strange times indeed!
But if we turn and look at this Gospel again; if we stop our auto pilot listening and hear it with fresh ears, we find some clues to how we move from down cast eyes to hearts burning and still recognize Christ as our nourishment even today in these strange times.
First we see the two disciples on a journey, yet they wander without hope for it says they are down cast. Heading out on a journey without hope is like wandering around aimlessly; there is no destination if there is no hope. We recognize our own temptation to hopelessness in this moment right now. Yet the risen one joins us on the journey, and asks us, “What are you discussing as you walk along?”
What are we discussing? As a people of faith, what is it we talk about right now? Do we add to the hope in other people’s lives or do we draw divisive lines and point blame? Do we gossip and rant or do we point out stories of courage and commitment, honesty and hope? Paying attention to what we talk about and what stories we tell is a step toward building hope.
Jesus gives other clues along the road to Emmaus. He tells them stories. He opens the scriptures for them and links each ancient story to a moment in his life – a moment in their own tangible experience. We do that too. We tell stories, we tell lots of stories – posting them on facebook or snapchat, watching them on TV. But the key to telling stories is not simply to tell them, but to pay attention to how we link our stories to the story of our faith. We link the ancient stories of our sacred scriptures to the experiences of our day as a key to finding meaning in this moment.
So stories of the health care workers, hospital staff and other first responders remind us of Matthew 25 where Jesus states “whenever you did this for the least of mine you did this for me.” Or the stories of the teachers and parents creatively collaborating to keep their students from falling behind remind us of Jesus’ conversations with Martha or Mary, or when he tells his disciples to “let the children come” to him. These are moments when listening and learning are valued above all else. Or stories of the unique ways people have found to share what they have, to make masks or celebrate a life with a parade of honking cars or staff a food pantry while still maintaining distance should be shared and shared widely as examples of the times Jesus’ love poured out in healing and feeding miracles. Choosing what stories we tell and linking them to our sacred story reminds us of the hope we find in Christ’s presence.
The next clue along the road is vulnerability and hospitality. Along the road to Emmaus, Jesus acts as if he is going further, and knowing the time of day and the distance to the next town, the disciples are moved to protect this stranger. Jesus presents himself as vulnerable giving the disciples an opportunity to care for and welcome the stranger. In doing that, they are able to offer hospitality and express the deepest values of what it means to participate in Christ’s Good News.
Being vulnerable, being willing to accept help from another, welcoming the stranger, offering some semblance of hospitality. These are important tenants of our discipleship and this strange moment has all of us experiencing vulnerability. The key to our response to this vulnerability lies in how we both accept help from others and offer help to the stranger. Ponder how your vulnerability has invited you to care for and connect with others you may never have even known before.
The final clue on the road to Emmaus is one that isn’t named until after Jesus disappears. “Were not our hearts burning within us as he told the stories…” They realize after the fact that the whole time Jesus was walking with them, their hearts were burning. Even in our first reading we hear Peter recount David’s ancient words, “My flesh too will dwell in hope!” Our bodies will clue us in to hope if we pay attention. Our flesh will dwell in hope; our hearts will burn within us.
This type of awareness, in tune to our physical reality also helps us ponder the presence of God there with us: in our sickness, in our health, in our walking, in our standing still. If we see with eyes that can see, then our hearts burn with love when we feel a breeze, or hear the delight in a grandchild’s laughter, or taste a cool glass of water, or see our students faces on zoom, or are touched by the voice of a loved one on the phone. Yes, if we pay attention to our senses and our heart, then perhaps there too we will recognize Christ’s hope.
In each of these actions along The Way – in the drawing near to share our stories, in the caring for the other in their vulnerability and in the attentiveness to hearts that burn with love – we see Jesus’ actions and his invitation to discipleship that sets us on a journey of hope and Good News. The two immediately head back out on the road, only this time they are filled with hope, they have stories to tell and they are courageous in their vulnerability of night and distance. They believe in the Good News and it burns within them.
The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. It is what we do as a community of faith to express our gratitude to God. This story along the road reminds us that if we pay attention, our hearts will be set on fire and the Eucharist will be shared abundantly in these strange times indeed! Go now in Peace to Love and Serve the Lord.
Christina R. Zaker, DMin
Director of Field Education
Director of English for Theological Education
Adjunct Lecturer in Pastoral Ministry