Today’s Gospel brings us back to Easter Day. We follow two disciples who did not remain with the others on Easter but rather left Jerusalem and went to the nearby village of Emmaus. The journey of the two disciples goes from sadness to joy: from loss and profound discouragement to discovery and great joy. They began the journey in sadness because of the absence of the Lord, and this sadness gives way to joy in the presence of the Lord. The disciples had a precise revelation of the two main parts of the Mass: the sharing of the Scriptures and the breaking of the bread; in other words, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is Jesus, walking with them but unknown to them, who opens their eyes through the word and the Eucharist. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures…. 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.”
In reflecting on the Gospel, it can help if we imagine ourselves present in the events. We take our place beside the two disciples today – or we identify ourselves as the disciples themselves. Jesus is present with us as we walk along, but we do not recognize him. This often happens in our lives. We experience disappointments and sufferings in varied ways, such as health challenges, financial worries, and concern for our loved ones. We can feel abandoned by God precisely when we need him most. We do not recognize Jesus, even when he is right with us, explaining things to us. Instead, we ask where is God, and why has he abandoned us?
The Gospel does not tell us that we will not experience dark times, for we surely will. What the Gospel assures us is that Jesus is with us, that he walks along with us. He identifies the disciples’ problem, which is our weakness as well. “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” The lesson that Jesus gives the disciples is meant for us too. We who have been foolish and slow to believe must take to heart the words he speaks to us here so that we learn how to find him in times of darkness and personal crisis. Here are the two main ways in which he reveals himself: in the Word and in the Eucharist.
The Word of God is no ordinary word! It is a living word, a fire that burns in our hearts, a penetrating sword, a transforming power, a source of divine light. In the Scriptures, we find wisdom that helps us make sense of what is going on in our lives. How much time do we spend reading and reflecting on God’s word? It is likely that we spend more time on our phones and social media than with the Lord. We need to spend time with Jesus and listen in our hearts as he explains his word to us. “Pondering the Word” means taking it piece by piece, savoring it and reflecting on it, taking time to treasure it in our hearts. When Jesus explains the Scriptures to the two disciples, their hearts are burning within them. This shows that the Scriptures have power to ignite and transform us from within. We need to welcome the word of God as a life-giving force, with divine power to transform us.
The disciples recognize Jesus “in the breaking of the bread,” the Eucharist. Jesus is present on the altar at every Mass, just as much as he was present to those disciples on that Easter evening. After they recognize him, he vanishes from their sight. Why? Because now he is present in a new way, in the Eucharist. This is the gift of the Real Presence, of the Lord Jesus himself who remains with us in the Eucharist.
After their primordial experience of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the two disciples reflect on what they have experienced, and they realize that their hearts had been burning within them, though they had not paid attention to their own interior life. They realize that Jesus has been present with them the whole time. Now they know Jesus is alive and is present with them after all, in a new way. They get up at once and run back to Jerusalem to tell the Good News. They become missionaries, declaring that Jesus is alive. This is what we are called to do at the conclusion of each Mass. We experience the Lord in the Word, we experience his presence in the Eucharist, and then we go forth in peace and let the world know he is alive and is present with us on the road of life.
How do the words of Scripture ignite and change me interiorly? Why do I allow my cares, sufferings or disappointments to draw me away from the Lord? Reflecting on the disciples in the Gospel, how is my heart transformed when I recognize Jesus’ presence in me?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.