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A Reflection for the Third Sunday of Easter

April 16, 2020

An African proverb advises: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We see the truth of this proverb illustrated in the Gospel reading for today. Luke 24:13-35 is the story of two disciples who are walking some seven miles from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday afternoon. They are distressed and confused, neither grasping the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion nor the report of “some women” who said that He is alive. A stranger joins them in the course of their journey, inquires why they are so dispirited and then begins to weave an explanation of what has lately occurred from the threads of the Old Testament scriptures. At one point, the stranger asks: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

This Liturgy of the Word enacted on the road invites Cleopas and his unnamed companion to face and contemplate the unthinkable, namely, that the suffering, rejection, humiliation and death of God’s own beloved Son is the stuff of which God’s plan of salvation for the human race is made. What seems like unmitigated failure and loss, sure defeat and reversal, is in fact the counter-intuitive and paradoxical accomplishment of God’s will. Jesus, Messiah, overcomes death by His own death and reconciles the children of Adam and Eve to their Creator, reopening the path that leads to Eden or Paradise.

Cleopas and his friend represent every Christian on the road of the journey of life. Like them, we too are at times a bit lost and clueless, wondering where God is, why the sky ahead looks so dark, how we got to where we are. Jesus soothed their anxiety and healed their broken hearts by immersing them in the Scriptures, God’s own Word and revelation to His children. So much so that these disciples later said: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” In these difficult and uncertain times, the Scriptures offer us as well light, comfort and courage because to dwell quietly with God’s Word in the Bible is to encounter Christ Himself. Ten or fifteen minutes a day spent in reading the Scriptures will prove, in time, to be the best ten or fifteen minutes of the day.

The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus concludes as the sun is setting and Jesus, at His companions’ invitation, stops at a roadside inn to take refreshment and spend the night. Once seated at table with the disciples, Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it and gives it to them. This eucharistic gesture opens their eyes, allowing them to recognize the Lord who vanishes from their sight. Taken together then, the experience of Jesus opening God’s Word on the road (Liturgy of the Word) and breaking the bread at the inn (Liturgy of the Eucharist) was a kind of “Mass” for the disciples, a real and transformative experience of the risen Christ that sent them hastening back to Jerusalem to announce to the Apostles that the Lord was indeed risen.

Our country has lost thousands of its citizens to this pandemic, many are hospitalized and millions are unemployed, wondering how to pay the rent or mortgage or where their next meal will be coming from.

Countless heroes, the “saints next door” as Pope Francis calls them, from the medical profession, to cleaners, transportation workers, supermarket employees and many others are working tirelessly and at great personal risk to sustain and heal our society. Many officials in government and public health on both the federal and state levels are working hard to coordinate an effective response to the Coronavirus and to guide us toward a safe reopening of our economy and institutions. But all of this herculean effort, dedication and sacrifice remain somehow incomplete unless we invite the Stranger to accompany us on the road. For He and He alone will cause our hearts to burn within us with grace and strength to meet the challenges of the present moment and He will open our eyes to discern the way forward. Since we need to go far, let us go together with Him.

Peace in the Lord,
Fr. Gregory

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