Reflection on the Word – 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Hospitality is a fundamental cornerstone of Christian faith, arguably the most important ministry of the Church. This Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the journey to Emmaus, is, among other things, a story of hospitality: hospitality extended to a stranger – “stay with us, because it is almost evening” – well understood and lived in Atlantic Canada; and hospitality extended by ‘the stranger’ – meeting these disillusioned and disheartened disciples of Jesus where they are and listening to their stories. We need to share our stories, and listen to one another’s stories.
The disciples are discouraged – “we had hoped” … what do we hope for? What hopes do we have for ourselves, for our children, for our country, for our Church, for our world? To live in hope, to be people of hope is another key aspect of Christianity. How awful it is for us when hopes are dashed, which is what these two are living as they leave Jerusalem – they have lost their hope in Jesus. According to the Jewish teaching of the time, it is impossible for Jesus to have been the Messiah if he was crucified and died. Yet, Jesus presents a new interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” This is a fresh concept for them to absorb. Through their conversation with Jesus, they are transformed, even before they know it is him.
How do they finally recognize Jesus? In the ritual action of the breaking of the bread. Rituals are a vital component of our faith; our Roman Catholic tradition has many vibrant rituals, which speak to us in ways that words cannot. Powerful rituals which generate immediate response. As soon as they recognize Jesus, the gospel tells us “that same hour,” they return to Jerusalem – a place they had left in despair only hours before. With no regard to the danger they may be facing in Jerusalem if recognized as one of Jesus’ disciples, or even danger they may encounter when travelling on the road at night, they return to share what was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Jesus Christ has restored their belief and sent them back on the journey.
In a 2013 address to the bishops of Brazil, Pope Francis, acknowledging that today we see many like the discouraged and disheartened disciples of Emmaus, said: “We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, alone, with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning. … We need a Church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a Church which accompanies them on their journey; a Church able to make sense of the ‘night’ … a Church which realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus. … Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts? A Church capable of leading people back to Jerusalem? Of bringing them home?” We are the Church. What is our response?