"Stay with us"

"But they urged him, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them.
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, but he vanished from their sight."
(Luke 24:29-31)

You are probably familiar with the Gospel reading for this Third Sunday of Easter: two disciples are out on the road walking from Jerusalem to a town named Emmaus. On the journey they meet a man that they don't recognize and he becomes a traveling companion with them on the way. 

A Strange Companion

When this mysterious man asks them what they've been talking about on their journey, they proceed to tell him about the events in Jerusalem in the previous few days: how Jesus, who they believed was the messiah, had been arrested and then killed. 

They tell the mysterious stranger about the women visiting the tomb and finding it empty, and that the other disciples had gone and confirmed this. Yet these two men seem to not know what to make of all these things. 

At this point, the mysterious companion accuses them of being slow of heart in not recognizing what the prophets foretold: how the Christ would have to suffer in order to enter into his glory. 

Then, beginning with Moses and the prophets he breaks open the scripture for them, interpreting all that it has to say about the Lord. 

The disciples don't yet recognize this mysterious stranger, but they're impressed enough with him that when he tries to go on further than Emmaus, they invite him instead to stay with them for dinner. 

During that meal, the mysterious stranger takes up the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it with them. it's only in that moment that they realized that the person that they've been walking with is Jesus himself. 

He promptly disappears from their sight and they rushed back to Jerusalem the let the other disciples know what's happened on the road.

God's Search for Us

There are, I think, a number of important elements in this story. The first is that the Lord comes to find them and not the other way around. These two disciples are apparently having a very hard time seeing how God could be at work in the things that have happened in Jerusalem. They are despondent. They have started to become cynical.

We don't know why they're headed toward Emmaus, but one could speculate that maybe they're headed home...maybe they've given up hope. Yet Jesus comes and seeks them out. He finds them on the way. 

God is constantly on the search for us as well. 

Yes, our spiritual journey involves us moving toward Christ, but primarily it is Christ who moves toward us. God is not waiting for us to seek him out. He is actively seeking us out even when, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we don't really realize it. 

Finding the Lord on the Way

Another important element of the story is that it happens to the disciples on the way. Pilgrimage is a traditional (and powerful) metaphor for the Christian life and it's illustrated so well here. The disciples meet the Lord, not in a special place, but on the way: in the midst of their activity. 

The Lord meets us on the way, as well, during our normal daily walk. 

He finds us in all the places that we inhabit. He is not reserved simply for church or for spiritual retreats. He is not only found in certain shrines or holy places. Rather, Jesus is with us in the mundane and often messy details of our individual daily lives. We do find him in those special times and places as well, sometimes in powerful ways. Yet since our daily routine is where we spend most of our time, it is where we are most likely to encounter him.

Power in the Word

Another important element of the the story is the holy scriptures. Jesus, as the mysterious stranger, uses the scriptures in order to help enlighten these two disciples. We, too, are called to be enlightened by God's word. In the spiritual life, there are very few absolute promises that we can make. I can promise you this: if you spend a little bit of time every day reading and reflecting on the holy scripture, it will transform your life.

The scriptures will challenge you, educate you, inspire you and, ultimately, lead you to a better understanding of the plan and purpose that god has for your life. The early church fathers believed that the scriptures had dunamis, power: that they were not simply words on a page but rather the living word of god present for us and that they were capable of transforming lives. 

This is no less true today than it was in their time. 

Revealed in the Breaking of the Bread

The final thing to mention about this encounter on the road to Emmaus is, of course, the holy Eucharist. The disciples finally recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. From the earliest days of the Church, people have recognized the eucharistic imagery in this passage. In fact, Luke probably included it specifically for that purpose. 

The disciples journey itself has the shape of the Mass: they begin by breaking open the scripture and then in breaking bread the Lord himself is revealed. 

It's important to remember that in all phases of our spiritual journey, the sacraments that Jesus gave us --most especially the holy Eucharist--are there as sources of grace and strength for us on the journey. The catechism, echoing Saint John Paul, calls the Eucharist the source and summit of the Christian faith. 

This makes sense, because the Eucharist is nothing more or less than Jesus himself. 

It is Jesus who is our ultimate destination: we long for heaven and eternity with him. On the other hand, he is also our means of support: the source of the grace that sustains us on that journey. It's important for us as spiritual pilgrims not to neglect those means of grace that God gives us but rather to embrace them and the help that they offer. 

If we do that, then like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will find ourselves moving from a place of doubt and even despair to a place of hope and peace in our spiritual journey.

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