Sunday Reflection 26/4/2020 – THE ROAD TO EMMAUS IN ONE WORD

LUKE 24: 13-55

Very often when I am trying to prepare something whether that be a homily, talk, lecture or a lesson I ask myself one fundamental question, ‘how can I make this as simple as possible for people to understand?’ Jesus, somehow, always managed to do this, whilst at the same time allowing people to access the infinite love of God. So my starting point is often to identify a word, just one word upon which my whole proposal will be hung. When reflecting on the Gospel of Luke and his description of the two disciples of Jesus as they travelled to Emmaus the one word which came to mind for me was presence and it is through this word that I want to explore the Easter story again.

First, however, I want to go back to an earlier account in John of when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection from the dead. In John 20: 19-31, we are told that the disciples knew Jesus had risen from the dead because they had already seen him. However, such knowledge and proclamation of the Easter message do not in themselves appear to be enough. Instead the disciples seem to be missing something, which is the experience of Jesus being alive with them. As a result they lock themselves away in a room because, as John tells us, they were afraid. Everything changes, however, when Jesus appears to them and here we have an important insight as to what John is trying to tell us. It is only when Jesus stands at the very heart of our lives and of our community that he, in turn, becomes the true source of our peace and joy. The minute Jesus appears to the disciples John tells us they were, ‘filled with joy,’ and here we have it, the presence of Jesus changes everything. Christian lives and communities are transformed when it is possible to see the presence of Jesus in the midst of them. It is the presence of Jesus, which allows us to overcome our fears and to fill our hearts with peace and joy. However, this can only ever happen when we recognise the presence of Jesus with us as a reality. The minute we lose this we become lost just like the disciples who locked themselves away in the upper room because they were afraid all those years ago. The key to everything then is Jesus and his presence with us here and now, it is this and only this, which will transform our lives as we recognise him in our midst.

Now we can return to Luke and his description of two disciples as they journeyed to Emmaus. In the early days of the church one group of people, quite naturally stood out, those who had actually physically seen the risen Jesus. So Peter, John and Mary Magdalene are just three examples of those who had unique experiences of the resurrection and therefore the presence of Jesus. Indeed it could be said that it is through these unique experiences that each of them had, that they were led to their belief in the resurrected Lord. But what about those who became followers of Jesus later and who, therefore, did not have such experiences? Of course this applies to us too as we also have not experienced the resurrected Lord in the same way those early disciples did. How can we today then experience the presence of Jesus in our lives and in our communities so that our faith in him is upheld and sustained? This is exactly the issue being explored by Luke through the two disciples as they travelled to Emmaus.

Let us note, first of all, how down they are as they made their journey, ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.’ Obviously they are sad and disillusioned and it would seem that they have lost their faith in Jesus. You see for them things had gone horribly wrong, Jesus was dead and even though some women had gone to the tomb and found it empty, ‘but of him they saw nothing,’ they had no direct experience of the resurrection of Jesus to sustain them. We all know, I am sure, many people who have drifted away from the Church and, perhaps, there have even been times in our own lives when we have found it difficult to believe. This is when we can walk this walk with the disciples as they made their way to Emmaus. They seem to have lost all hope and they are questioning everything they ever believed about Jesus, ‘could it be that they were wrong all along?’ ‘Was everything just an illusion?’ ‘What now is the point of anything, anymore?’  Many people today feel like that and you, the reader, may also be feeling exactly like that as you read this but let me assure you that such feelings are OK because they are honest and the first person we need to be honest with is ourselves and let us face it God knows exactly how we feel because we can hide nothing from him.

Going back to Luke, it would seem that completely unnoticed to the disciples Jesus has been following to them and listening to what they had been saying to each other. Eventually he catches up and joins them. From this point on Jesus walks with them and begins to have a conversation with them. Speaking directly to their despondency he says,

‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.’

However, despite all of this those two disciples were still not able to recognise who Jesus was, Luke puts it like this, ‘something prevented them from recognising him.’ Once again there are many people in the world today who do not recognise who Jesus is and as a result he has no meaning for them. In the same way we may know many members of our own families and friends for whom Jesus is an irrelevance. So here is the question, ‘what can those two disciples do to recognise who is present with them, right by their side?’ Here we need to reflect on the whole incident as described to us by Luke. What is quite remarkable is that throughout the whole passage those two disciples never stopped talking about Jesus. Right from the beginning we are told, ‘they were talking together about all that had happened.’ After Jesus joins them and enquires about their conversation they are more than happy to tell him, ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who proved to be a great prophet by the things that he said and did in the sight of God and the whole people.’ They then go on to describe how he was put to death and what followed in the discovery of the empty tomb. Jesus then tells them how all of this was part of God’s plan for His Christ right from the beginning. In other words the whole passage becomes a reflection on the revelation of God in His Son through the scriptures. Although they did not recognise who Jesus was at the time, later they were able to say, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’

What this highlights for us is the importance of never forgetting Jesus both in our own lives and in the lives of our communities. To do this we need to recognise the presence of Jesus in the midst of us, and the first way to do this is through the scriptures. At the same time we need to combine this with prayer and reflection because we need to ask God to guide us through the grace of his Holy Spirit to a greater understanding and appreciation of His Son. This means allowing our hearts to be drawn ever deeper into scripture, which is nothing less than God’s word speaking to our very souls. There we need to discover the meaning of his message and his actions and the effect they can have on our lives. In and through scripture God invites us to recognise the presence of His Son there in the midst of us just waiting to be discovered. We can ask Jesus, in faith, to reach down into the deepest parts of our souls and to touch us in such a way that his words awaken within us a sense of his presence so that our very hearts begin to burn.

However, this alone is not enough, which might surprise some people. No, Luke has more to tell us and the journey for those two disciples still has some way to go. As they come to the end of the road, the stranger who is with them, ‘made as if to go on.’ The disciples though, still not knowing who he is, feel that they need his presence with them, so they ask him to stay. In other words they do not want him to go. It is now that something quite remarkable happens,

‘While he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him.’

This is the moment when recognition finally comes because they recognise the presence of Jesus in the breaking of the bread. It is now during their meal together that they see who this stranger they have been travelling with really is, Jesus. Luke makes it clear, therefore, that the experience of the presence of Jesus in and through the Eucharist is also needed if we are to truly know who Jesus actually is. Note now the response of those two disciples, ‘They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem,’ or their lives on recognising the presence of Jesus were completely transformed to the point that they had to go and tell others, ‘There they found the Eleven assembled together wit their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon. Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of the bread.’

Luke then highlights two experiences if we are to recognise today the presence of Jesus in our midst. Firstly, if we stay close to Jesus in the reading of the scriptures by reflecting on his life, his teaching, his death and his resurrection and if this penetrates our souls, then our hearts too will literally burn within us as we recognise his presence in our lives. Secondly, when we celebrate the Eucharist to recognise his presence, once again, in our lives as he strengthens us, upholds us and sustains us with his own body and blood. If we can recognise the presence of Jesus in our lives like this, it is then that through faith in him, his risen life grows in us.

In the dark times in which we live it is important for us to recognise the presence of Jesus, in our lives here and now. For he is present in the scriptures, please reach out to them and allow Jesus to speak to you and tell you how much you mean to him and how much he loves you. He is present in the Eucharist celebrated everyday, in Church, by Father Gerardo, for you and all those you love and care for. Finally, he is present in you and in your life of faith and love. Never forget that the Lord will never abandon you, he is present, alive and active in your life now and always will be. For he is the God of hope, the God of love and above all the God of life. He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed – Alleluia!

Deacon Sean


As I came to the end of this reflection I suddenly became aware of something and felt the need to add it here. I have highlighted the importance of the word presence in recognising how Jesus is truly present in our midst. That is to say the Risen Lord is truly present and active in our lives now. However, being the frail and weak human beings that we all are this is something that most of the time we either forget or take for granted. Yet during this period of lockdown some of us, perhaps, now have the time to reflect on this truth of our faith a little further.

If we look carefully at the story of the disciples on their way to Emmaus a pattern begins to emerge, which may at first not seem obvious but when it is pointed out it certainly does. Look closely at the sequence of events and what do you find? Firstly, the presence of Jesus is to be found in the scriptures but this only becomes possible for the disciples when they recognise his presence in the Eucharist. Sounds familiar? Think about how we celebrate the Eucharist day-by-day, week-by-week and year-by-year, it is in fact an ancient tradition, which goes right back to the early days of the church and continues right up to the present day. Now what do we have? The liturgy of the word or in other words the reading of the scriptures through which we recognise the presence of God speaking to us comes first, followed by the celebration of the Eucharist in which we recognise the presence of His Son in his most precious body and blood. In other words it is exactly the same pattern that we find in Luke’s description of the journey made by the disciples to Emmaus!

The simple but profound truth we can take from this is that God is truly present with us all as we make our own journeys through life. Sometimes we are aware of his presence but most of the time we are not but this does not change the truth of the promise he makes to all of us, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the world.’ In these times of darkness, loneliness and great sadness for many people take heart from the fact that the Resurrected Lord is present in our midst, with his message of hope, life and love. All we have to do along with Thomas and those two disciples on the road to Emmaus is reach out and touch him.

‘You believe because you can se me. Happy are those who have not seen but believe.’

Look after yourselves.

May God bless you now and always.

Deacon Sean