It should not be too difficult to imagine how crestfallen the early Christian community must have been after the death of Jesus. Jesus had not only talked a good game, he had displayed a good game before believers and ridiculers alike. It would be difficult to dismiss a man who had fed a crowd of five thousand, driven out numerous demons, and cured the blind, deaf, mute and crippled. Why, Jesus had even rescued a number of people from near death and Lazarus from death itself! There had indeed been “mighty deeds, wonders and signs,” as St. Peter reminds the Pentecost crowd in this Sunday’s first reading. So who indeed would not be grief stricken to see this promising young man deposited into an early grave? Now, all this promise was spent and the Christian community was stopped in its tracks, “looking downcast,” as the two disciples on the way to Emmaus are described by St. Luke in this Sunday’s Gospel account.
Of course, this was not the first time that Jesus appeared to be lost to those who loved him. Mary and Joseph, also a few miles outside of Jerusalem, discovered that their beloved son was missing. Dismayed, the forlorn parents rushed back to the Holy City searching (significantly, for three days) only to find their son in the midst of the scholars and teachers in the Temple, admirably discussing the mysteries of the Jewish religion. Jesus suggests to his relieved parents that the Temple should have been the first locale that they might have inspected: “Did you not know that I would be in the house of my Father?”
The Emmaus bound disciples would similarly rediscover Jesus, not in Jerusalem’s venerable Temple — the heart and soul of Judaism — but rather in the Eucharist: the heart and soul of the new Christian Church. After their pleasant evening repast with Jesus at the village inn, the two disciples hastened back to Jerusalem, to the hallowed Upper Room, to explain to the Eleven the happy event they had just shared. “Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.”
St. Luke further explains the joyous encounter in detail: “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So Jesus amiably reveals himself to these distressed disciples by opening the Scriptures to them and by breaking bread with them.
The Scriptures and the Breaking of Bread. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Plainly and simply, the Mass. St. Luke’s message could not be clearer. If any believer has lost touch with Jesus Christ, if any follower finds him or herself separated from the Master, if the Savior’s presence is a distant memory, then, plainly and simply, that disciple should head back to church to find Jesus in the Scriptures and in the breaking of bread. When first hints of Jesus’ Resurrection filtered back to the Apostles in the Upper Room, they rushed to the empty tomb, expecting some kind of verification of Jesus alive and well. But, as St. Luke writes, “him they did not see.” Rather Jesus would take the initiative and re-introduce himself to his followers mostly at meal time — in the Upper Room and along the seashore.
The symbolism of these post-Resurrection meal sites should not be lost. At mealtime, Jesus arrived to instruct and to nourish. At mealtime, the disciples gathered to listen and to be fed. Today, Sunday after Sunday, in fact, every day after every day, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered throughout the Catholic world. The Scriptures are proclaimed and explained; the Body and Blood of Christ are offered once again and are shared with the believing faithful. The Catholic world today must faithfully avail themselves of the Eucharist as our ancestors in the faith regularly welcomed Christ into their lives, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.
Catholic believers, especially those who are alienated or estranged in any way, must avail themselves of the same attitude the two Emmaus disciples voiced:“…they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.” Time spent with Jesus especially through the Scriptures and through the Eucharist is a prime source of Christian consolation and reconciliation. Jesus will gladly linger with his beloved brothers and sisters. Every believer must treasure such endearing moments.