I suppose that from a certain viewpoint, just about everything that needs to be said, perhaps even everything that could be said, about the disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus has been said. I’m not going to tap some great brand-new insight this morning after reading today’s gospel — which, by the way, is among my favorite gospel readings.
The part where the “stranger” asks the disciples what they are talking about, and where they incredulously ask him if he’s the only visitor to the city who doesn’t know what happened, never ceases to make me smile. I love the way Jesus hides himself in order to draw people out, and I love how he gets those disciples on the road to Emmaus engaged in some evangelism even before they know who they are talking to.
But what stood out for me today in this gospel for the Wednesday of the Easter Octave is that “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” This line has always moved me as I visualized what it would have been like to be those disciples, remembering what Jesus did at the Last Supper and experiencing that great awakening as they saw him again bless and break bread with them. And this morning, the words brought tears to my eyes.
“He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” In these days of pandemic and continuing quarantine and isolation, we experience a unique deprivation: not only have we been excused from our obligation to attend weekly Mass, but in most places the public celebration of Mass is suspended while shelter-at-home orders are in effect. We literally cannot fully participate in the sacrifice of the Mass or receive Jesus under the forms of bread and wine. We cannot physically receive the Eucharist. And I don’t know about you, but it is breaking my heart to be physically deprived of him for this long.
And yet. And yet we have both an obligation and a uniquely wonderful opportunity to keep our faith alive. Are we not taught that Jesus is also present in his Word? Are we not taught that Jesus is available to us through spiritual communion? The opportunity here is that instead of mourning what we’ve lost — which is where the disciples on the road to Emmaus seemed to be headed — we reach for and hold onto what we have. We have the Word of God, and we have the people of God, and we have the ability to pray, to communicate with God.
Our need is not so much to have back what we always had — that physical experience of Jesus in the Eucharist. Oh, we definitely need that back, and I hope people will be there in droves when they can once more receive. But what we need now is to immerse ourselves in his Word. What we need now is to find him daily in his people. And what we need now is to unite ourselves with him spiritually, not just daily but hourly, even minute-by-minute. Let each moment of sadness over what we don’t have right now, become an opportunity to reach for Jesus in his Word, in his people, and in prayer and spiritual communion.
Jesus, I’m here to ask you, as the disciples on the road to Emmaus asked you: Stay with us. We too easily slip to the side of the road on our way to find you. Stay with us, and let us know you in the your Word and your people until we can once more know you by the breaking of the bread.