May 3, 2014

3rd Easter Sunday - In the breaking of bread



"He interpreted for them what referred to him"
Acts 2: 14, 22-33
1 Peter 1: 17-21
Luke 24: 13-35
In good conversation we learn much about how another person thinks and feels about various issues and we can be passionate about many things. However, in our fervent feelings we can be blind to the obvious as we become stuck in our own opinions or discouraged by disappointment.   

We have hopes and dreams that may seem possible at one point but in the end we may be forced to change our views.  Sometimes, “plan B” is better than our first choice. We might even become discouraged and despondent when things don’t work out – “It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.” We’ve all been there.

This Sunday we have a beautiful treat in another resurrection story from the Gospel of Luke.  As all the scriptural appearances of Jesus are impressive, I personally find this one, the “road to Emmaus,” my absolute favorite. The disciples walk away from Jerusalem on that first day of the week after their hopes were dashed and they have just experienced a great loss. But now they are confused about reports from “some women of our group” whose news of the empty tomb both astounds them and puzzles them more. “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.”
We aren’t sure why the disciples were going to Emmaus.  There is no place in Israel that is credible enough to say, “This was Emmaus.” The point is more that they walked away from Jerusalem which had seen the very events they pondered.  Were they escaping? Going home in sadness or just on a Sunday afternoon stroll taking some time to reassess what their next move should be or reflecting on the words of the women who reported the empty tomb.  It’s clear their hopes were dashed about Jesus. 

Jesus, now risen, has joined them on this journey.  But, they fail to recognize him. Why? Maybe their discouragement is so great that they simply can’t see the obvious.  If you’ve ever tried to get someone’s attention when they’re concentrating on something else it might be like that. Or maybe Jesus’ was so transformed after the resurrection that his appearance was somehow different, yet the same. Yet, don’t we too often go through times of belief and unbelief or at least wonder at times if God is deaf to our prayers or blind to our problems?
Still, the point is that Jesus walks with them in their confusion and discouragement then begins to uncover the Scriptures for them.  How everything they wondered about was self-evident if they would only look with the eyes of faith. That faith in the risen Christ is the source of all truth and if we would just believe that, we could see his presence in the Word. That he is indeed the gift of the Father and Savior of Israel and all who would profess faith in him.  

The allusion to the early liturgical assemblies in which the Christians gathered to reflect on the Scriptures should be clear.  This Jesus they followed was foretold by the Law and the Prophets and here he is! We too gather in our Liturgy of the Word, the first part of our Mass, and we too should see and hear with the eyes and ears of faith.  We too can say, he is here! Where else can you see him?
At one point, hospitality takes on its best character and the two disciples, now more than curious to hear more from this wise and comforting companion, invite him to stay for the evening meal. Jesus becomes the host of the meal and as he did with the loaves and fish, as he did at the Last Supper with his Apostles, and as he does now – he breaks bread with them.  Then suddenly, “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”

Their encounter with the risen Christ was not a hallucination or a dream.  It was real and so is ours when we too break bread – and Christ is present to us under the signs of bread and wine.  Jesus is the host of every Mass and looks upon us with the same love and concern he did with those disciples in Emmaus.
Then, it all made great sense.  They had walked away from the very person they were searching for so they immediately set back to Jerusalem to share the joy of finding the risen Christ – to share the good news with their brothers: “The Lord has truly been raised!” Like our newly baptized and initiated and like all of us we must always turn back to Christ and his Church.

Yet, how many have walked away from the Church and how do we feel about them?  Do we blame them?  Do we judge them? Do we not care – out of sight so out of mind? Do we cry for them or just wring our hands?  How about inviting them?
In his rich Apostolic Exhortation the Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis opens:

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; . . . No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’” (# 3).  
We are all invited. The disciples’ hearts were open because Jesus gently walked with them and patiently accepted without judgment where they were then led them to see more. Finally, they saw him and ran back to Jerusalem – to the Church.

This is evangelization.  To accept the invitation offered to every one of us for a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ.  In Word and Sacrament we see him.  In the face of one another we are invited to see him – especially in the poor and those who are discouraged.
Try this.  Look into the face of an infant in arms and I dare you to not see the face of God! How blind can we be at times?  God saves us from discouragement and our own self-absorption.

The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples
Who take the first step, . . .an evangelizing community
knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first
and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative,
go out to others, seek those who have fallen away,
stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast.”

Pope Francis: Joy of the Gospel