Today is the 3rd Sunday of Easter, and so it has been two weeks since Easter Sunday, but in our Gospel reading we jump backwards to the evening of the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, and we hear about how Jesus appeared to two of his disciples who were walking to a town named Emmaus. No one knows exactly where this town was located – I believe there are currently three locations that all claim the title – but we are given the detail that it was about 7 miles from Jerusalem, so over a two-hour walk.
By the evening of that particular day, Mary Magdalene’s report had gotten out to Jesus’ disciples that his tomb was empty and that angels had announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. These two particular disciples walking to Emmaus – one of whom is named Cleopas – believe that the tomb is empty – the evidence is clear, but are skeptical that Jesus has in fact risen. Little do they realize that the man to whom they are relating these events is Jesus himself!
Jesus has begun appearing to his disciples; it doesn’t matter if Emmaus is seven miles away or seven hundred; Jesus is no longer bound by physical distance and can appear wherever he wants, whenever he wants. But he is not just pure spirit; he still has a human body: a new and glorified body. So he walks along with this two disciples and then eats with them. And then disappears immediately afterward. Clearly what has happened to Jesus is different from for example Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead.
And it is significant that the disciples only recognized Jesus at the breaking of the bread; i.e. after Jesus had sat down at the table with them, taken the bread, blessed it, broke it, and offered it to them. This is the exact formula if you will of the Eucharist. It is the same order that we heard when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fed the five thousand; it’s the same order of the Last Supper. This is clearly the Eucharist that Jesus celebrates with Cleopas and this other, unnamed disciple. Then and only then do they recognize Jesus. This connects Jesus with the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, Jesus is in a sense “hidden” under the appearance of bread and wine – but is is he nonetheless.
As soon as they recognize through this ritual that this is the risen Jesus who is with them, he suddenly disappears from their sight, and the two disciples begin to talk about how their hearts had been burning within them as they had listened to Jesus explain all the Scriptures to them and how he himself was the fulfillment of them; how Jesus had revealed to them the mysteries of the faith.
So Jesus reveals himself to his disciples – and to us – in multiple ways. Just as the disciples experienced their hearts burning as they listened to the Lord on the way to Emmaus, sometimes He reveals himself to us in prayer and teaches us about the faith in a way that is inaccessible to us through our own efforts, no matter how hard we might try. And Jesus reveals himself to us in the Eucharist. Even though our senses are limited right now – we see bread and wine – our faith proclaims that it is Jesus himself.
Jesus is still with us and is with us in many ways, but he becomes more present to us as our faith increases. He is present to us in prayer and in the sacraments. Although these are not the only ways in which Jesus is present to us.
We all of course are at different stages in this journey of faith. As disciples of Jesus, we are all in a sense walking on this road to Emmaus. The Resurrection has happened; we have heard the reports of it, but believing can be difficult, especially when our senses seem to tell us the opposite. And sometimes it is easier or more difficult to have faith than at other times. But Jesus is walking along with us and trying to reveal himself to us: in prayer, in the Scriptures, in the sacraments.
Faith doesn’t require empirical proof – although let’s be honest, that certainly helps – in fact, faith is necessary without empirical proof. Faith is an assent of the will; in a way, it begins with the desire to believe, and then it proceeds to this assent of the will to believe. Faith is like saying, “I’m going to walk along on this road with Christ, even though I don’t necessarily recognize his presence, or that he is walking beside me, and I will wait for him to reveal himself to me when he chooses and as he chooses.
And with faith should come the desire and then the resolve to, as St. Peter says in our second reading, “conduct ourselves with reverence during our time of sojourning.” Conducting ourselves with reverence is, in other words, living our lives according to the laws of the Lord. Recognizing that with faith comes a change in how one lives one’s life. Even though we might not always do a very good job of adhering to the laws of the Lord, every day we ought to make that resolution to strive again to follow the Lord and to imitate his example as best we can.
And this “time of sojourning” that St. Peter references is of course this life. The implication here is that this life we are currently living is only temporary: we are here for a while, for how long we do not know. But we do know that this world is not our permanent home. And so we should conduct our lives accordingly. This present crisis we are all living through has upset the course of our lives to which we had grown accustomed. And I think it has also served as a rather uncomfortable reminder that we are in fact in a time of sojourning – in a temporary, not a permanent home – that we are on a journey and not yet at our destination.
Jesus accompanies us on our journey, even though it can be hard to recognize his presence. Let us then seek to become more aware of his presence in prayer, in the Eucharist – when that becomes possible again – and in any way that Jesus chooses to reveal himself, when he chooses to reveal himself.