Last week the reading from the Acts of the Apostles provided a vignette of the worship of the early Christians. They gathered in one another’s homes, they listened to the Scriptures, they sang the psalms with which they were so familiar from both synagogue and Temple, and they broke bread (Acts 2, 43 – 47). The story of the five-mile journey made by two despondent disciples on the afternoon of the first Easter Sunday and the companion they encountered on the road provides the Gospel reading for this Sunday. In itself a beautiful, touching and intriguing narrative, it has caught the imagination of our greatest artists: Caravaggio painted the meal which ends the story several times, so too did Rembrandt, Veronese and Velasquez. The story itself, which provides an appendix to Luke’s Gospel and is unique to the third evangelist, was only put to parchment some fifty years after the events described (c. AD 70). It would have made immediate sense to those early Christians who had got used to the pattern of worship described in that short extract from Acts which introduced the Liturgy of the Word last week. They would have recognised the key elements of their worship experience and of their identity as a gathered pilgrim community. Like the two disciples, all Christians – and that includes us, even as we live through lock-down – are on a journey, we are, as Vatican II’s Constitution Lumen Gentium defined us, a pilgrim people. Like the two disciples, we too are people who have hopes, who have encountered disappointments, who carry with us pain but who also have dreams of a better future – our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free (Luke 24, 21). Their companion entered into conversation with them, he listened to what they had to say, and then – drawing on their people’s history and on the Scriptures – he helped them to see the realities they were grappling with differently. A good homily – and this was a homily, an exegetical exploration by Jesus of what the Scriptures had to say – helps us see things in a fresh light. A good homily encourages us, reassures us and gives us new insight into the old story we thought we understood. The story ends with the disciples inviting Jesus to stay with them. How often do we invite Jesus into our lives? When we welcome guests to our homes, do we treat them with the same hospitality we would extend to Jesus were he to call? Jesus took the bread the disciples had ordered for their meal, he broke it and at that moment they recognised him. They then knew he had risen from the dead. In common with those two disciples, Cleopas and his companion, we too gather Sunday after Sunday in the knowledge that Jesus is permanently alive and in the here and now is present with us. The Emmaus story contains all the elements of the communal act of Christian worship we call the Eucharist or Mass. It is reassuring to know that we do today what Christians have done every Sunday since belief in the risen Lord and the power of the Spirit took possession of their hearts – did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24, 32). We all look forward keenly to the day when we can again make the Emmaus experience a reality again in our own Christian lives.
Father Patrick Daly