And Their Eyes Were Opened: Let Jesus Walk With You on Your Road to Emmaus
In keeping with the ancient Christian tradition the Catholic Church celebrates Easter for an octave, eight days. These days are seen as one continual celebration of the great event which forever changed human history.
The octave opens into a liturgical season called Easter which concludes on the Feast of Pentecost, when the promised Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and the Church was born in power and sent forth to continue the redemptive mission of the Risen Savior.
Our celebration of this Easter octave centers in the Eucharistic Liturgy, or what Latin Rite Christians call the Holy Mass. During the first part of our daily liturgies (called the liturgy of the Word) we hear readings from the Bible which tell of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ to his disciples.
Perhaps my favorite is the one recorded in Luke’s Gospel, which I read from the ambo on Wednesday of this week. (Luke 24:13 – 35) The Apostle recounts the disciples walking toward Emmaus, forlorn and perplexed over what had occurred to the Lord. Jesus draws near to them on their journey but they do not recognize Him. This is a common theme in many of the post-resurrection appearances recounted in the Scriptures.
The disciples continue their discussion of the events which had occurred during the days before surprised that the stranger beside them seemed unaware of what had occurred. In His empathy and compassion, Jesus enters into their experience and listens. Then, he gives them the most profound expository sermon (or homily as Catholic Christians call it) of all time.
He explains the Scriptures and shows these travelers how they all referred to the Christ. He explains the very events they were recounting to him on the road. However, even after the word of God, the Scripture, was broken open by the Living Word Incarnate, the disciples still did not recognize Jesus.
They invited their fellow traveler to stay with them, “stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” Out of the depth of the love in His Sacred Heart, He agrees to stay with them. Then, we read these wonderful words:
“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 they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the Eleven and those with them who were saying, ‘The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!’ Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
From the earliest centuries Christians have understood this great encounter on the road as referring to the Holy Eucharist, the great Sacrament of Love, wherein Jesus Christ gives Himself completely to us, body, blood, soul and divinity.
This is the Sacrament we call “Holy Communion” because it brings us into communion with the Lord and, in Him with one another. Of course, in light of that, this wonderful encounter on the way to Emmaus opens up in beauty for all who reflect on it prayerfully during this Easter season.
In the light of the encounter they had with the Lord in the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened. So it is meant to be with each one of us. Receiving the Holy Eucharist is more than a commemoration; it is an invitation into communion with the Living God – right now – because Jesus Christ is Risen. In that encounter with the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, the whole world looks different.
That is why we move from the Liturgy of the word into the Liturgy of the Eucharist at every Mass. There we enter into the timeless gift of the Lord, given to us in this Great Sacrament of Sacraments, the Most Holy Eucharist. We, in the words of the Apostle Peter become “partakers of the Divine Nature”. (2 Peter 1:4) The Lord comes to take up residence within us by giving us His Body and Blood.
Among the numerous references to this fact, we find the early Christian apologist St. Justin writing to explain this early Christian teaching to the emperor in the year 155 A.D., “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him . . . is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”
We are those disciples on the road to Emmaus, living our lives in the real world, walking along with Jesus who is always there accompanying us on the road, whether we recognize Him or not. He listens to us, and understands us, because he became like us, in “all things but sin” as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us. (Hebrews 4:15)
In Jesus, the entire human experience has been, in the words of early Church Bishop and Father, Ireneaus of Lyons, recapitulated. This theologically rich word means that in Jesus Christ, the New Adam, we are re-created. (cf 1 cor. 15:45 – 50, Romans 5:12-18)
Recapitulation is a development of the teaching of the Apostle Paul, set forth in his letters to the early churches such as Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi. It involves the restoration of everything in Christ, the one Head, the “New Adam” in which creation and all of humanity was first begun, and in whom, through the Incarnation, it has begun again. The Church is His Body, His fullness, and He is alive through His Resurrection. Membership in the Church is essential to the fullness of salvation.
The Church is both visible and invisible. Within that Church, the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, we are transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. To Ireneaus, the Word of God made flesh, the God-Man Jesus Christ, is the Alpha and the Omega, who unites the end with the beginning. He is the harvester of the seed that was sown in the beginning:
For as by one man’s disobedience sin entered, and death obtained (a place) through sin; so also by the obedience of one man, righteousness having been introduced, shall cause life to fructify in those persons who in times past were dead. He who is the Word, recapitulating Adam in Himself, rightly receives a birth, enabling Him to gather up Adam (into Himself), from Mary, who was as yet a virgin.
In Jesus Christ, not only is our soul saved, but the entirety of our human experience is being made new. The fullness of redemption will be complete when we, like Him, are raised from the dead. The early Church Father Gregory of Nazianzus put it this way, “whatever was not assumed was not healed.” It was ALL assumed in Jesus Christ – and in Him it is all made new.
In the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ we see who we are all called to become – as we grow in continual communion with Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this encounter with the Risen Lord, made present at every Eucharist – because it is outside of time and opens us to eternity. In this great gift we receive the grace we need to begin to walk the road of our daily lives differently because we have seen the Risen Lord – and OUR EYES ARE OPENED!
He walks with us on our own road to Emmaus. We too can come learn to recognize Him, in the breaking of the bread.
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