May 6, 2011

3rd Sunday of Easter - "We were hoping . . ."

Rembrandt - Road to Emmaus

Acts 2: 14, 22-33
1Peter 1: 17-21
Lk 24: 13-35

Have you ever gotten lost? Maybe you found yourself in a large crowd and felt disoriented. You were following someone in traffic and other cars pushed their way in-between (how dare they!) and you lost sight of your friend ahead of you. Maybe you had an earlier experience of loosing your way on a hiking or camping trip. Or, possibly our spiritual life seems to be going no where and we feel stuck in a rut or directionless.

This Sunday’s beautiful Gospel story from St. Luke, absolutely among my favorites that I have asked be read at my funeral, presents two disciples of Jesus who are lost. Not without direction, for they were heading to a little town named Emmaus and knew the way there, but they are certainly feeling confused and disillusioned: “But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel . . .” (Lk 24: 21). They’ve heard the stories about an empty tomb, an appearance of Jesus and were now filled with hope? Confusion? Sadness? All of the above and more.

The two disciples today were walking, along a road, in conversation, attempting to make some sense out of the events of the last few days and the most recent news about Jesus being seen alive. In the midst of their questions, Jesus approaches and walks along with them. But they are so filled with their disillusionment, that they do not recognize him as he stands next to them. Still, he walks with them and engages them in conversation. It seems there is a lesson here or certainly an important image of how God deals with us when we are lost or wander away.

For example, we often feel that Catholics walk away from the Church for reasons of doctrine or practice: birth control, women’s ordination, married clergy among them. But a recent study by the Pew Research Center discovered something interesting.

One principal reason for Catholics leaving was that they felt their “spiritual needs were not being met” in the Catholic Church. It seems the major reason for leaving was worship, the liturgy and not Church doctrine. Disillusioned Catholics tend to join the Evangelical Communities whose worship is pretty free flowing and entertaining but they claim they are more satisfied there.

One can debate the personalization of the Protestant services, the music, the large screen TV displays, the Christian rock band or the more free flowing style of Sunday worship as one approach. But, something deeper may be the reason.

Something disappointed them: a person, an event in their life, a question never adequately answered. Perhaps somewhat like these disciples on the road to Emmaus who are struggling to connect the dots of the last few days. Yet, Christ walks with them in their questioning and confusion. He opens their minds to understand and stays to share an evening meal with them. We too should always pray, "Stay with us Lord."

The disciples on the road eventually do recognize this companion – in the “breaking of the bread” they experience the presence of the risen Lord with them. It is that Eucharist; that moment of communion with Christ and one another.

To the ears of the early Christians, I think this beautiful story reflected their own experience as they too struggled to understand who Jesus was for them and how they were called to be faithful disciples. For us today, we need to connect not only on a personal level but also on a communal level with who Christ is in our midst.

Still, some do leave. It may be a call for us to continue to invite and to create an even greater sense of communion with each other. While receiving our Lord in Church brings us together as one family, out where we “love and serve the Lord” is where we can and should continue to make his presence felt.

If you’ve ever had a crisis of faith or feel now that your faith is simply dry and uninspiring, today’s Gospel reminds us that you are not alone. That Jesus walks with you and that a prayer to sense his presence more deeply might be a good place to start to feel alive again. In the Scriptures and in the Eucharist we find him among us.