Apr. 29, 2017

HOMILY FOR THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER.

STAY WITH US LORD: THE EMMAUS EXPERIENCE

Peter’s courageous speeches and those of the other apostles characterize the post resurrection period. In the first reading of this Sunday, Peter challenges the Jews with the reality of the resurrection. The Jews crucified Christ and must face the truth. Peter refers to King David who ruled Israel, with assurance that one of his descendants would rule God’s people forever. That promise, Peter recounts, is fulfilled in Christ Jesus as the Psalm states, “I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall stand firm… because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your holy one to see corruption” (cf. Ps.16:10). Peter remarks that we are redeemed by the precious blood of the spotless and unblemished Lamb, Jesus, a sacrifice so costly and imperishable, not like that of silver or gold.

The gospel presents us with the beautiful story of the journey to Emmaus. Emmaus’ story is replete with images of theological importance and takes the resurrection story beyond Jerusalem. It can be summarized as follows: The two disciples embark on a journey, seven miles away from Jerusalem. Jesus joins and walks with them. They fail to recognize him. They speak to him about the events of his crucifixion, death and resurrection. They share the remarkable witness by the women who go to the tomb but can’t find his body. Jesus unveils and interprets to them what scriptures say about him. The disciples beg him to stay with them. He breaks the bread, feeds them, then vanishes. Their eyes open. They reverse their journey and return to Jerusalem. They give account of their experience and how they recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

There are different ways to look at the journey to Emmaus. One is to see it as a movement away from Jerusalem, the center of apostolic activities. The disciples are going away from the center of apostolic action. The journey to Emmaus is an eye-opening encounter. Emmaus is a point of revelation because at Emmaus the Lord opened the eyes of the disciples to recognize him. Although the two disciples knew about Jesus, like Mary Magdalene, they couldn’t recognize him in his risen nature. Scripture says they talked about the events of the previous days. The two disciples shared their disappointments at what happened to Jesus and how the women had gone to the tomb without seeing him. They knew that Jesus was a prophet and their hope was that he would redeem Israel.

Emmaus also depicted hopelessness in the life of the apostles. Scripture describes the two disciples this way, “They stopped, their faces downcast” (LK.24:17); before Christ joined in their conversation. Apparently, they thought Jesus to be the messiah but eventually the Jewish authorities had him killed. Besides having him killed, it was the third day since the incident took place. The new development was that the ladies went to the tomb and came back with the story that he had risen, ironically, they didn’t find his body. So, to them, the entire incident looked messed up. Hence, they were heading home, they were going to Emmaus to continue with their normal life. They didn’t imagine that the redeemer would be killed just like that. Such ignorance prompted Jesus to react with such pedagogy, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk.24:25-26). Jesus revealed to them the necessity of Christian suffering.

And their movement? We can’t just walk away from Christ when things don’t get well with us, when things don’t go the way we want them. Emmaus tells us that God never deserts us. Christ walked with the two disciples even when they never knew he was the one. Christ provided them with his comfort without their recognition. God always walks with us.

Emmaus experience also brings out a beautiful aspect of the divine Liturgy. The event happened on the “very first day of the week”, that is Sunday. Emmaus’ liturgical event started with the breaking of the Word, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Lk.24:27). Jesus gave a teaching that took them to a deeper understanding of his messianic mission; the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection. He then led them to the table of the Eucharist; He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave them to eat (Lk.24:30).” Then their eyes were opened. It was only after they had consumed the Blessed Eucharist, that they recognized the risen Lord, for 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? (v.32)” The word of God stirs up our hearts, makes it burn. It elicits hunger for God. It generates faith based questions. It wakes us up from spiritual slumber, as Scripture says, “The word of God is alive and active: it cuts more incisively than any two-edged sword…” (Hebs.4:12)

The disciples said to Jesus, “Stay with us, Lord”. Before receiving him in the Blessed Eucharist, they were confused. They were doubtful about their future. They were afraid. They seemed hopeless. “Stay with us”, is both an invitation and a recognition of the power of God at work. Jesus walks with us but sometimes we fail to recognize his presence. We describe him as the Unseen Guest in our homes, but He sees us. In addressing the house of Cornelius, Peter said, “God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). The Emmaus disciples had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. He reversed their journey from Emmaus to Jerusalem, from hopelessness to joy.

We must invite Jesus to stay with us, we need Jesus in our homes. Let’s use the simple example of saying the Grace before meals as family to tell Jesus to stay with us. Jesus blessed the bread, prayed over the food before giving it to the disciples. Each time we pray as family over the food we eat, we invite Jesus to stay with us. Is it hard to say the Grace together? Are we in a hurry to eat? It could be an important family practice, a show of faith. Some families take it for granted to pray over their food. Praying individually is not bad, but praying as a family is a plus. Take home with you today that you should make saying the grace before meal a family culture. Tell Jesus, “Stay with us and bless us. Stay with us and nourish us. Stay with us and make us thankful. Stay with us and open our eyes to the goodness of your love and mercy". Amen.