Even though we are in the year of Matthew, the first Evangelist does not accompany us in the Sundays of Eastertide. Today’s Gospel is in fact from Luke and we have here the longest of the post-Resurrection accounts, the story of what happened to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, found only in the third Evangelist. Emmaus is one of the most mysterious places in the New Testament and nobody knows exactly where it is, despite its being described as about seven miles from Jerusalem. I suggest, however, that in our meditation on the text, we leave the geography, open ourselves to the symbolism and consider two possible approaches.
The first is liturgical. The basic structure of our Eucharistic celebration is in two parts, the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. The perplexity and discussion of the two disciples becomes a kind of meditative procession when Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Their confusion is replaced by a proclamation of the word and a moving “homily” that concludes in their inviting him to eat with them. At table he took the bread, and blessed, and broke, and gave it to them. In the “liturgical” movement of the episode, they, and we, find the presence of the risen Lord.
A second approach might view the event as a kind of itinerary of the spiritual life, with the three traditional ways, the purgative, the illuminative and the unitive. The purgative represents the suffering and trials, the sadness and despair that we all have to endure. Here, the disciples looking sad, tell of their delusion: we had hoped that he was the one. But with the gradual unveiling of the Scriptures, the light dawns: the purgative becomes the illuminative way (did not our hearts burn within us?). Finally, when Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to them, they know him fully (the unitive way).
The remarkable experience of these two disciples is not merely an event of two thousand years ago: it is a word of promise that we too may recognize the risen Lord in our liturgy and in our daily lives.
By Fr Edmund Power, osb