April 23, 2014

Emmaus: Don't go. Stay with us.

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

What could Jesus have been up to walking along the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend?  He heard them venting sadness, not to mention bewilderment, at all the recent events.  ‘Why are you so excited,’ Jesus injected?

‘It’s the breaking news,’ they blurted out, ‘where have you been for the past few days? Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard the buzz about an empty tomb?  Everyone’s talking about it! How could you have missed the news,’ they pressed incredulously?

‘What news?’ Jesus kept a straight face but must have been chuckling within. 

Out came the narrative: “All about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.  The chief priests handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he would be the one to Israel!  It’s been three days. Some women from our group astounded us.  They went to the tomb in the early morning and didn’t find the body.”

[And then], “they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive.” 

[And then], “some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything as the women had reported but of him they saw nothing!” 

‘The whole story is incredible! White-robed angels, stone rolled back, empty tomb, shroud left behind?  Who ever heard of a corpse being resurrected!’

It was time for Jesus to step in and strengthen the two.  His eyes met theirs, and he said:

‘. . . . How unwise on your part
Not to trust God with all of your heart.
The scriptural story
To enter his glory
Meant suffering these things from the start.

Let’s begin with the prophets and Moses
And all that the Scripture supposes.
I’ll make it quite plain
As I try to explain
What’s been there right under your noses.’

Mesmerized, their hearts stirred and beat faster. But as yet, no recognition! His outward appearance had changed because of his risen body. 

‘Who is this curious fellow,’ they wondered? Maybe he’s not such a country bumpkin after all.  Maybe he knows more than we think.’
They pressed him not to go but to stay with them for supper.  As they reclined at table, he took the bread, said the blessing, and broke it.  Suddenly, he vanished from their sight.  Suddenly, their eyes were opened.  Now, they recognized him! 

‘That’s it!  He broke bread with us! We were so caught up in our grief that he had to give us a more vivid sign in the breaking of the bread.’

Such is the knowing Lord who brings us to faith by dropping clues of his presence right in our paths.  Didn’t he use a similar approach with the Samaritan woman at the well? From one viewpoint, “Jesus’ miraculous appearance is hardly necessary when one has his presence in the Eucharist” (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 44:176).  From another, his presence screams for recognition in suffering where he is never nearer. In fact, the clues of his presence and the effects of that presence are everywhere, in the Divine Providence, in ourselves, in others, and in daily events. The Emmaus story is our story.

The Emmaus Disciples - Luke 24:13-35

To Emmaus, the both of them went
In a state of acute discontent.
The two of them walked
Seven miles as they talked
Of the one catastrophic event.

It proved to be more heat than light,
When a stranger, believing he might
Shed more light than heat
By sounding upbeat,
Drew near though he hid from their sight.

He asked them: “What’s caused a dispute
That makes you affirm, then refute?”

“Excuse if we stare,
But are you unaware
Of events we can hardly be mute?

“The good news in action and speech
The Nazarene prophet would preach.
He needed no prod
As the chosen of God
To cure illness, pardon, or teach.

“Our priests after more than one try
Had him judged and then sentenced to die.
We saw, agonized,
A man whom we prized-
How could one life have gone so awry?

“We thought him to be without fail
The one to redeem Israël.
In three days that passed
Since seeing him last,
We haven’t yet ceased to bewail

“That they chose him to be crucified,
That he brutally suffered and died.
And to heighten our gloom,
There came from the tomb
Some women who looked petrified.

“They claim angels said he’s survived.
While it’s nothing we say they contrived,
We went to his tomb,
We thought, to exhume,
There we asked: “Could it be he’s revived?”

He said, “How unwise on your part
Not to trust God with all of your heart.
The scriptural story
To enter his glory
Meant suffering these things from the start.

Let’s begin with the prophets and Moses
And all that the Scripture supposes.
I’ll make it quite plain
As I try to explain
What’s been there right under your noses.”

Shortly afterward, taking their leave,
He was stopped by their saying: “Now we’ve
Been enjoying your stay,
Throughout this whole day.
Don’t go, or you’ll make us both grieve.”

He remained and at table reclined,
And when all three had suitably dined,
The blest bread he broke
(A pure master stroke)
And in one act was fully enshrined.

Their vision, once darkened, grew bright;
They knew now who slipped from their sight.
As brother to brother
Affirming each other,
They drew from a shared inner light.

“Our hearts, were they not truly burning
On the road as he helped us with learning?”
They returned to the city
Released from self-pity,
No longer the victims of yearning.

They reached home and looked slightly dazed,
Then found themselves jointly amazed
At receiving the word
(No longer absurd)
That Jesus had truly been raised.

The Eleven were told how Christ led
Them to faith by the things that he’d said,
And how suddenly he
Was synchronously
Made known in the breaking of bread.

Joseph Roccasalvo

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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