The road to Emmaus is referred to only briefly at the beginning of today's Gospel, but I cannot resist reflecting on it in more detail.
The Emmaus journey can serve as a template and guide to prayer: The road is an encounter with the Lord Jesus, and provides the basis for each prayer encounter....there are 4 steps
'What are these things you talk about on the way?'
Did you ever feel let down by someone or feel an anti-climax after a much anticipated event that did not, after all, live up to expectations?
We live in an era as well of media hype around certain events as diverse as a royal wedding and a soccer tournament. The amount of hype on the airwaves and excitement generated is met by the reality that only one team can win.
A priest I know goes to the Cheltenham Racing Festival every March. He says the first night before the first race is the best for atmosphere– everyone’s a winner that night!
This time of year family events such as Communions and Confirmation each have their own excitement – but as we have seen the focus has been taken off the sacrament received – which is priceless - and more on the material aspects of the day, such as the communion dress or outfit, the function, and worst of all how much money the child receives.
It is a different kind of excitement and expectation or even trepidation when we are about to meet someone for the first time.
Or the disappointment when someone we have get to know has let us down – they did not measure up in our estimation of what we expected of them. It must be very painful in marriage when one spouse expresses disappointment in the other in word exchanges like: ‘You’re not the man I married’ - ‘well, actually I am.’ ‘You’ve changed’ - ‘you haven’t changed with me’. Marriage counsellors have their work cut out for them as couples wound each other deeply where it hurts. We all fail to live up to others’ expectations through miscommunication, misunderstandings, forgetfulness, insensitivity, and inevitable lurking character faults that surface at some stage. When the honeymoon is over, the real work of marriage begins. Much of the work that spouses need to do on themselves is to become more realistic about what is realisable and what can be accomplished in marriage. But also in working relationships among colleagues there can be spats and disputes. A fabulous job interview and hiring of a new employee cannot prevent inevitable tensions between an employee and employer, and between employees. In most relationships, family, community, workplace, voluntary organisation or parish, there are inevitable tensions and disagreements over policy and the allocation of work assignments.
Worst of all is the sense that the overarching vision and sense of joint or communal purpose is lost sight of, and tedium and tensions are the order of the day. Cynicism has been described as 'disappointed idealism.’
Such is the feeling of the two disciples in the Gospel passage today – a feeling that Jesus and His message was one big let-down. Having invested their time and energy into Jesus and His teaching and having perhaps witnessed some of His miracles and being moved by the strength of His personality, all ended in seeming disaster. He was not what they had made Him out to be (‘our own hope had been...’), a political liberator. Furthermore the notion that He had risen from the dead has astonished them. They don’t believe it – their body language gives it away – they are leaving Jerusalem –walking away from where it all happened. They are going home. It is all over for them. ‘Their faces are downcast'.
‘He explained the Scriptures to them’
The disciples are about to embark on the journey of their lives, a journey that no doubt will ultimately lead them to Jerusalem and to their true home –the early Christian community, the Church and their heavenly home. They must unlearn their mistakes. They were ‘foolish and slow to believe’ – they lacked true wisdom – were thinking in truly solely political terms ‘as men think’, according to the prevailing opinion even among Christ’s followers. They were hesitant and not convinced, and not prepared to make an act of faith. The journey now becomes an intellectual and spiritual journey – challenging and clarifying their woolly understanding as God’s plan as revealed in the Scriptures which is now made clear to them. The journey begins with Moses 1200 years before and goes through all the prophecies about Jesus Himself. It is a gradual realisation of who Jesus is – as it a gradual deepening for us over a lifetime to unearth ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ . They reach a point where they say: ‘stay with us’ .
'He explained to them everything ...'
We are now ready to hear Jesus -his 'take' on what we are concerned about - which in the great order of things are only trifles, slight. He corrects our mis-perceptions of reality, of a given situation and brings us fresh perspective. He helps us to see things in a new way, and shows up our blindnesses, that Jesus is everything and in everything, and wants to be part of every aspect of our lives.
'...that was in the Scriptures about Himself'
We learn something new about the identiy and relevance of Jesus in the darkness of our situation. Praying with the SCRIPTURES, whether Old Testament - the Book of the Promise, or the New Testamnet, the Book of Fulfilment, we find answers to our questions. 'Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ' (St Jerome).
The Lord made as if to go on...' Stay with us Lord, the day is almost over'
We enjoy His Company, we bask in His loving presence, and we feel moved, changed, transformed, and loved. This is a true encounter with Him. We do not want Him to leave.
How often have we felt we did not want a particular day, event, an encounter with someone, and all the feelings associated with it, to come to an end? We want the moment to linger, this inner peace, a feeling of blissful harmony – we think to ourselves - ‘oh if it could always be like this.’ But in our heart of hearts we know it can’t. At least not yet. At such rare moments there is no lingering in past, any longing for the future, just now – joy-filled, thrilled, exuberant, and happy. We realise that we have tasted a bit of heaven, moved to the depths of our being. We are truly living in the moment. There are no words, because no words are necessary to explain such ecstasy.
These rarities in life, which are so elusive, which people search for - often fruitlessly - and vanish all too quickly, do happen also in prayer. These are the rare glimpses of heaven that the Lord wants us to savour, and they make all the darker moments worthwhile. These consolations do not last very long and are the effects of persevering prayer, and most importantly they are not sought for their own sake. All holy men and women experience them, but they come from God as a pure gift. Moses and Elijah experienced them, Peter at the Transfiguration ‘did not know what he was saying’ he was in such joy, we think of Mary at the birth of Jesus, Elizabeth when the child, John, leapt in her womb, Simeon at the sight of Jesus. Such moments lead us to praise of God. This was the experience of the disciples at Emmaus – and like them we want to say ‘stay with us’.
'While at supper Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it..’
At the breaking of the bread at Emmaus the Lord is now at last recognised. He had been there all along, in their midst though they did not know it! Now He disappears from sight and they must spread the word. They reflect to each other: ‘were not our hearts burning within us at as He spoke to us on the way?’ He came to them in their misery, and changed their hearts slowly into joy and love.
POST-SCRIPT: AFTER PRAYER COMES PROCLAMATION
‘They made their way back’
So therefore they MUST share their experience together with the other disciples – they journey back from where they came, no doubt with the physical landmarks of the journey back, recalling to mind words, phrases, impressions. So that, by the time they got to Jerusalem they had a refined - though undoubtedly excited and exciting - narrative account of all that took place.
What a wonderful narrative account. Are we not all on a similar journey at present? Where are you and I now? Which of the stages have we experienced? And what have we yet to experience? Is the Lord with us though we do not see Him, though we do not ‘know’ it, i.e. without any physical evidence? Like Thomas last week, ‘happy are those who have not seen and yet believe!
For a second time the Lord rebukes the disciples for not believing the authoritative factual testimony of the other disciples, perhaps because the latter were women and they were prejudiced towards them, but above all because they lacked faith in the message. Now all together they must admit; ‘Yes , it is true’. May we now believe likewise!
It is all true. The Lord has risen!