Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Third Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.
We come to Saint Luke’s account of the Road to Emmaus and the two disciples who journey with a third person they did not recognize seven miles from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus and how, when they arrive, they come to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ through the breaking of the bread, and in looking back on their journey with eyes of faith, were able to recognize that Jesus was present as well in the proclamation of the Scriptures, opening them, thereby burning their hearts. Indeed, looking back is what the Lectionary has had us do these first three Sundays of Easter—looking back at how Jesus first made His resurrected presence felt and known to the disciples on the first Easter day. Here it is with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; last Sunday it was to the eleven disciples; and on Easter Sunday it was to Saint Mary Magdalene in the garden by the empty tomb.
The events of Our Lord’s Passion, death and resurrection transformed the lives of the disciples, and it continues to transform the lives of those who claim their baptized status and seek to work out their salvation in fear and trembling. There was a tremendous and explosive flurry of activity during that first Holy Week and Easter Day, just as we had an abundance of experiences during this past Holy Week and Easter. The Lectionary has us looking back to the Jesus’ first appearances because these are so rich and layered, an inexhaustible abundance of meaning for those who approach them in prayer, reflection and contemplation.
The term for this is mystagogy. Mystagogy is a Greek term that means “being led into the mystery,” and for us Christians specifically, “being led into the realities of Jesus that reach beyond our ability to simply describe them, yet which we can experience.” Having the clear intent of mystagogy, by looking at the appearances of Jesus to Saint Mary Magdalene, to the eleven disciples, and now to the two other disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are being led into the reality of Jesus who suffered death and was buried, and on the third day He rose again—and in rising, available in a glorified but still personal way: only saying a word—that word being “Mary”—and Mary Magdalene’s soul was healed; only saying another word—that word being “Peace”—and the wounds were made evident to the eleven disciples; and in today’s Gospel, only saying another word—the soundless symphony of His presence beheld in the breaking of the bread—and the hearts of the two disciples burn, and like the bread were broken open.
Indeed when we look back on this experience recorded by Saint Luke, it is true mystagogy, because we are being led into the mystery of the reality of the Mass, for here we see already on the first Easter the form of the Mass coming to be. We have a Liturgy of the Word similar to our own, for Jesus interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself—undoubtedly quoting passages from the Old Testament and then offering comment and interpretation, indeed something of a homily. And of course we have a Liturgy of the Eucharist with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood consecrated. It was because stranger used the same words and actions in the same order and way that Jesus had that the two disciples were able to recognize that this stranger who had accompanied them was Jesus, and fed by the love of the Sacrament, their eyes of faith were able to behold Him in His redeeming work of walking with them and proclaiming to them the Holy Scriptures—for it is always Jesus who proclaims the Scriptures, an important reminder for Lectors of the Mass as well as for the Priest: that when we stand up here and read the assigned lessons, through us, Jesus speaks.
Brothers and sisters, let us continually ask God to open our eyes of faith. The presence of Jesus is His gift to us, and it is a gift that that when recognized for the gift that it is, transforms our lives, and transforms all of creation. Indeed, may we always behold the Lamb of God, and behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb. Blessed are those whose hearts are made to burn with His love.
Cover image “Road to Emmaus” by Ted is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.