April 15, 2020
First Reading: Acts 3:1-10
Responsorial: Psalm 105:1-2,3-4,6-7,8-9
Second Reading: Luke 24:13-35
The story of Jesus appearing to two men on the road to Emmaus is one of the most famous of our resurrection accounts. The last phrase, “. . . they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread,” speaks to us about how we encounter the risen Lord in our Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ’s living legacy to us. No matter what age it might be, he does not abandon us. After his ascension, the Lord continues to abide in his early disciples as well. He sends them his Spirit and works his ministry through them.
To protect myself, no Scripture scholar of whom I am aware would say that the story of the appearance of Christ to the two men on the road to Emmaus is a strict catechesis of the Mass. However, if we look at it closely, we might get a better understanding of the movement of the liturgy. Taking a mild liberty, we see the following elements:
1. They are PROCESSING to their destination. We are reminded of the Entrance Rite. Just as it symbolizes in the priest Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to die; the congregation is understood as a pilgrim people summoned to the risen Lord.
2. Jesus comes and explains the SCRIPTURES to them. This parallels the Liturgy of the Word where we encounter our Lord through the proclamation.
3. Then they come to the place where they are headed, and Jesus is moving on. The men ask Jesus to stay with them. Sharing a meal, we find the code word for the Eucharist, “THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD.” Notice the words he uses:
. . . he TOOK BREAD and GAVE THANKS (Eucharist),
he BROKE IT, and
GAVE IT TO THEM (Communion).
They recognize him in the breaking of the bread. What do they do afterwards? We read in St. Paul a few days back that we must also discern the presence and saving activity of Christ in the bread of life and the chalice of salvation. Otherwise, the sacrament that makes possible justification and mercy can bring judgment upon us instead.
Finally, the men go out upon their MISSION to spread the Word. They return to Jerusalem to announce before the apostles that Jesus is truly risen (Dismissal).
Can you see the broad outline to what we call the Mass today? We are all processing to our final destiny. We proclaim the Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word. We participate in the breaking of the bread and then go about our mission as disciples. A priest friend of mine has joked that the only similarity between the people of the Gospel and the people of the Church today is that “they got up immediately and left.” Many now lament our separation from our churches because of the coronavirus and yet when we were free to participate at the altar, how many of our Catholics would come late and leave early. It is unfortunate. The final words of the Mass send us upon a mission; it is not simply “the end” or a dismissal. Go tell the Good News! Go tell what you have learned! Give what you have received!
There is a reciprocal action going on here. In the bible passage cited, Jesus explains the Scriptures (likened to a HOMILY) to the travelers on the road and in turn they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he explained the Scriptures?” So too must our hearts burn with yearning. This is all by way of introducing the Mass so that you will not simply look upon it as a lot of individual parts. There is a whole here. The Scriptures prepare us for the Eucharist. In return, the Eucharist helps us to see Christ in the Scriptures and to better know his message for us. Before the bread and wine is transformed into Christ, the Scriptures are to configure us in such a way that we might be fitting vessels for the bread of life. It is my hope that as tragic as our current separation from the sacrament is, that God’s Word will give us a greater yearning and passion for the Eucharist when it is restored to the laity. But now we must be satisfied with Scripture and spiritual communion.
We see one incident of this transformation and mission in Acts. Peter and John are going up to the temple to pray. Outside the edifice, at the temple gate, is a beggar who for years has been at the practice of begging from those who come to worship. It is interesting that he is outside the temple because as a cripple he is also outside the hearts and lives of many of his own people. He is tolerated, but looked down upon. He must beg for his sustenance. He is a man whose dignity has been tarnished by a situation beyond his control. Peter is poor in worldly riches; but, he has already begun to save up for himself, treasure from heaven. He possesses Christ and he gives Christ. The apostles who were weak and confused are now much changed. In the name of Jesus, he heals the crippled man and orders him to walk. In that single incident, the poor man’s dignity is restored. He would no longer be a castoff from society. He is whole again. This is the meaning of Easter. We may be weighed down by our sins, be of ill health, be lonely, or sad; and yet, Jesus offers us healing and forgiveness. We had cut ourselves off from God and from the family of faith by our rebellion; now we can be reconciled and be aliens no longer. Our shame from the rebellion in the Garden of Eden is no longer imputed against us and our hearts can be turned around — making Christ our greatest treasure — living only to serve and love God.
Notice what the first act of the lame man is once he is healed. No longer merely at the gate of the temple, he walks inside the temple with them. Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, the gates of our heavenly Jerusalem are now open to us. May we be filled with the same joy as this healed lame man, entering heaven by “walking, jumping about, and praising” the Lord God.”
Lord, we beseech you to guide medical researchers to find a cure and treatments for the coronavirus. Give strength and compassion to those who are placing their own lives on the line to care for the sick and to save lives. Give acceptance and grace to your ministers and faithful that we will witness to you during this crisis. Console the grieving and give a share in eternal life to those called from this world. Amen.