Given at the church of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C.
The description of the events on the road to Emmaus is, for us who continue in these fifty festal days of Easter, one that holds particular significance. For the past three Sundays, the gospel has begun on “the first day of the week” – that is the first Easter Sunday – and it is in the events described in these passages that the reality of the Lord’s resurrection is made manifest to us in the scriptures. First, Saint Mary Magdalen and Saint Peter find the tomb empty (Jn 20: 1-9), then the Lord appears in the midst of the disciples (Jn 20: 19-31), and today Cleopas and the other disciple recognize Christ through the familiar action of the breaking of the bread (Lk. 24: 13-15).
That action, of course, is well known also to us. As we come to the altar of the Lord to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, the outward forms of bread and wine become for us the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Christ himself. In the “breaking of the bread” by which Christ feeds his Church, we see re-presented the sacrifice of Good Friday and the joy of that first Easter day. The sacred liturgy is the place, par excellence, where we come – as did those disciples on the road to Emmaus – to encounter Christ. It is here, more than any other place or any other situation, that we come to see the reality of the resurrection life, as the Lord comes into our midst and the fulfillment of that life – the glory of heaven – is presented to us.
Indeed, in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of Saint Matthew’s cathedral here in Washington, the tabernacle – the dwelling-place of Christ – is placed between the two disciples on the Emmaus road, depicted in a beautiful mosaic together with the words, “They recognized him in the breading of the bread”. It is here, then, in the Mass, in the Lord’s presence, that we come to know him.
And when we come to know Christ and recognize him, though hidden under the forms of bread and wine, what is our response to be? Are we simply to come each week to Mass, to observe and take from this bountiful gift of the Lord’s mercy and grace? Or are we to come, to deepen our faith and knowledge of the Lord’s will for our lives, and to take that out into the world? In case there was any doubt, we read in the gospel: “So they set out at one [and] they recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread”.
If we truly come to know Christ in these sacred mysteries; if our hearts burn within us as the mystery of his love for us is unfolded in our Eucharistic offering, then we can do nothing but respond. Lukewarmness has no place in the heart of the Christian disciple, and so as we come to recognize our Lord and Master in the “breaking of the bread” which is the Eucharistic banquet, we too must “set out at once” and recount what it is that we have here found. By our lives and by our actions, by our words and by our deeds, we must allow the reality of the Lord’s resurrection life to permeate through us, and into the waiting world, so that others too may come and do him homage.
May this be true of us at this Mass, and throughout the coming days and weeks. Let us live the joy of the resurrection, not simply behind a “locked door”, but out in the world; that others may come to know and recognize the Lord himself, and so come to share in the fullness of life: the life of heaven.