A Cycle – 3rd Sunday of Easter 23
The crucifixion of Jesus destroyed everything they Israelites hoped for. For those who believed Jesus was the Messiah the future was uncertain. I happened so suddenly as it was just one day earlier Jesus was welcomed with a glorious entry into Jerusalem. Then his followers saw Him arrested, put on trial by the authorities, convicted and crucified. Those who believed in him had to be stunned as they witnessed him being rejected by the very people who welcomed His presence with shouts of hosannas. Those who exalted Hin were not shouting out crucify. They urged Pilot to set a revolutionary free rather than Jesus. Those who believed lost everything that day, all hope was gone, and despair filled their hearts. Their minds were spinning, confusion reigned, fear overcame them, what would happen to them now.
What do we do now was their concern. Was everything they saw Him do and every word they heard Him say meaningless. But something else happened that they did not understand. The women had reported they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Could that be possible? They knew He had raised Lazarus from the dead just before He entered Jerusalem for Passover. But if He was alive, where was He and would the authorities arrest Him again? Could they crucify Him a second time? Would He keep coming back each time? If so, would they just lock Him up and keep Him away from the people. It certainly would have been more dramatic if He had just come down from the cross for the Roman authorities to see and in a flash of power knock them all down.
Where is He and what does the empty tomb mean? Is He alive, or did someone steal the body so they could claim He had risen? All of this was being discussed as the two disciples walked to Emmaus when suddenly a stranger joined them. This stranger joins in the conversation. Well, he tries to enter the conversation because the stranger seems to be from another planet. He is clueless about what had transpired during the last three days. How could anyone in or near Jerusalem not know what had happened to Jesus of Nazareth three days before. Jesus was a topic of discussion among the Israelites from the very first day He began his mission to reconcile them to the Father.
At this moment as those who believed in Jesus were deep in grief and despair, these two disciples did not need someone with them who does not share their grief. They need a companion to grieve with them, to affirm their disappointment and help them voice their despair. But it is soon becoming apparent this uninvited stranger has insights they had not even considered. This is a lesson we could learn when we wonder where God is during those moments of our own doubts and questioning. We have someone who is always with us to “remind us of everything Jesus did and said” (Jn.14:26). The Spirit of truth will open us to understand the scriptures and make sense of things that do not make sense to our human hearts.
This stranger reveals to them the truth about Jesus of Nazareth being the Messiah and what had happened that day on the cross. Jesus was not desperate when He cried out that God had forsaken him. For this stranger reminded them those very words were foretold about the Messiah in the scriptures (Ps. 22). Their concept of the freedom promised by the Messiah to overthrow of the Roman conquerors and reestablish the Kingdom of Solomon. This stranger points to the scriptures which tell of the overthrow of the ruler of the kingdom of darkness and restoring the glory of the relationship between God and his people.
He reminds them the prophet Hosea (6;2) foretold how God would restore them by the sacrifice of an innocent and would raise him up on the third day. By quoting from the prophets, this stranger helped them see with the eyes of their hearts and come to a new understanding of what was happening. We too need those kinds of insights, that kind of revelation by the Holy spirit opening our hearts to burn as we have the truth of God’s word penetrate our minds and hearts.
Yet even with their hearts burning they failed to grasp who this stranger was, but he gave them new hope and a desire to know more. This prompted them to urge him to remain with them and keep opening their minds to understand. Strange isn’t it, they were disciples, meaning they followed Jesus, listened to Jesus, and observed his miracles. With all that time with him, they still failed to recognize him as he walked with them and talked with them.
Can this inability to recognize Jesus is with us be a reality in our lives as we worship each week? Can or should our reception of the Eucharist be a catalyst to opening our eyes to realize the Holy Spirit is daily speaking to us about what the death of Jesus achieved for us.
Perhaps we can learn from the encounter of these two disciples with Jesus about the connection between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Word opened their hearts to burn with the grace of understanding. Our hearts should respond to the Word in a way that makes us eager to be in the presence of Jesus which happens during every Liturgy of the Eucharist. We should be eager to respond to Him as we recognize Him in the Eucharist.
But once we receive the Body of Christ, we should, like them, be compelled to tell everyone about our encounter with Christ and how He comes to us and removes all that is causing us pain, grief, despair, confusion, doubt, as Jesus restores our identity as disciples.