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Father Muench Says...

Easter and the story of Emmaus

April 12, 2017

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Easter is a time of great happiness for all time, a joyful time for all people.  Each Sunday, the Sunday Mass is a celebration of Easter, another celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus.  The message of Easter is a message of life; because of the Resurrection whenever we speak of Jesus, the message is “Jesus lives.”  This is always a present tense message.  Jesus is always new and always alive.  The Resurrection of Jesus strengthens our faith and gives us hope in the events we celebrate during Holy Week.

One of the many gifts of my own priesthood has been to be involved in the program that was named Emmaus.  I was able to visit several dioceses to explain the program to priests.  Central to this program was the resurrection story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  So even now, when I begin to prepare myself for Easter I think first of the Emmaus Gospel.  I have never visited the village of Emmaus but I imagine it is much like the other villages within walking distance of Jerusalem.

I know that you all know the story of Emmaus from Luke’s Gospel. St. Luke teaches us so much in this story about Jesus and his Resurrection.  I would like to begin our celebration of Easter by revisiting with you this Emmaus story. 

The story begins on that first Easter. Jesus had died three days ago, the day of the crucifixion and he was buried.  There is all sorts of confusion on this day because there are some who have discovered that his tomb is empty. 

In our story, there are two disciples of Jesus, walking home to Emmaus.  We are told that one is named Cleopas.  I like to think that the other was his wife. There is a wonderful painting of the Emmaus story in the Cathedral of St. Mel in Ireland, in the city of Longford, that imagines them as a man and woman.

As they walk along they are trying to make sense of all that they have experienced.

The story tells us that Jesus comes along and walks with them.  However, we are told that they do not recognize him; he is just a stranger to them.  He mentions that they seem very unhappy and the tell him the whole story.
They had great faith in Jesus and his message but now everything seems to have fallen apart. The crucifixion of Jesus has broken their hearts.  They had such high hopes for the future but now there was just too much confusion.

Jesus – remember they still do not recognize him – begins to break open the Scriptures for them. He shows them all the way back to Moses that these writers were writing about the promised Messiah.  This Messiah would have to suffer much to enter his glory. 

Can you imagine this even for a moment as happening to you or me?

Jesus presents a Scripture lesson.  I would have loved to have been there.  Actually, every time we read and study and pray over the Scriptures it is Jesus who teaches and guides us and who shows us the way. When they arrive at Emmaus, the couple invites him to stay a time with them (continue to remember that they still have no idea who this stranger is.)  They invite him into their home. 

Then we are told in the story that this person, who we know to be Jesus, took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them.  At that moment, they recognize that this is Jesus who was with them on the road and taught them about Scripture and was now with them.  Then Jesus leaves their presence.  

We are told that their first response to each other was “weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us about Scripture?”  They immediately returned to Jerusalem to inform the others that they have seen Jesus.

The Emmaus story is our story every time we participate in Holy Mass.  We come to Mass with our cares and concerns, our hopes and dreams, longing for the presence of our Savior and his guidance.

In the first part of the Mass, we are led through Scripture; each time at Mass I have discovered so often that the Scriptures chosen for that Mass have been exactly what I needed.  It was the perfect message for that day. 
Then the Eucharist helps me to recognize the presence of Jesus who is truly present with us all, bringing us another experience of God’s great love for us.

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