May 8, 2011 - Third Sunday of Easter

Today's Readings

Easter was two weeks ago now, but we will continue celebrating the Resurrection for the next 5 weeks, until Pentecost. The story of the two disciples who were leaving Jerusalem is an image for us of our Easter journey. The two had heard about Jesus, but they had not seen him. They had been told that he is risen from the dead but doubt remains in their minds. They would like to believe, but it seems too good to be true.

Now the stranger has joined them. They do not know it, but Jesus is walking with them, just like Jesus is present with us now, although we do not see him. They hear the words of the Scriptures, and they are taught how the prophecies relate to Jesus Christ. How wonderful it would be if we could have Jesus preach to us now. He is the author of the ancient prophecies and the fulfillment of them. He is wisdom and truth itself. Instead, we only have me, yet if the Holy Spirit fills me with the gifts of wisdom and understanding, I too will be able to preach the Word of God effectively.

They reach Emmaus and plan to stop for the night. They are unaware that they are walking with the Light of the World. Why would sunset prevent them from continuing on their way? Darkness is no longer an impediment. Yet they still stop and beg Jesus to stop with them, even though he would have gone on further. So too we stop along the way. Our lives ought to be a continuous journey toward heaven. We ought to be making progress in holiness every minute of our lives, but we often stop. We stop because we are tired and we do not realize that Jesus is the true rest. We stop because we cannot see the way any longer and we do not realize that Jesus is the way.

If we stop and take our rest, we should urge Jesus to stay with us and he will. This is to say that we should not imagine that Jesus is with us only when we are here, journeying to heaven. He is also with us when we rest. He is on the couch next to you as you watch TV. He is sitting next to me in the theater when I see a film. Do not watch anything that Jesus would not want to watch. If we insist that we need rest and entertainment, we should at least not undo all of our progress.

The disciples sit down to eat with Jesus. He takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them. Suddenly they see Jesus. How fitting that Jesus would be revealed in the breaking of bread, as he is today at Mass. The disciples wonder that they did not know it was Jesus before. They exclaim, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” They realize that they should have known Jesus by the effect he had on them. Though they could not see him with their eyes, they should have seen him with their hearts. So too we do not see Jesus with our eyes today. We see bread and wine. But our hearts should know that it is him.

Immediately they leave Emmaus for Jerusalem. When evening was near, they decided to stop for the night in Emmaus. They were afraid of highway robbery. It was not safe to be walking outside after dark, particularly not in an age without flashlights or streetlights. When they recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they get up and go back to Jerusalem. They are no longer afraid. They do not wait until morning. They just go.

"Perfect love casts out all fear." "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." When we know that we are loved, we are not afraid anymore. This lack of fear is different from drunkenness or stupidity; in such cases a person is too blind to see the danger. The kind of fearlessness we Christians experience is very different. We see the danger but we are not afraid because our God is greater than the danger.

This fearlessness is the true mark of Christians, from Peter who was not afraid of preaching about a man who had been executed, to St. Agnes, a twelve-year-old girl who was not afraid to die for her commitment to Jesus Christ, to countless other martyrs and saints who have suffered for the faith. To be willing to die for what you believe in is not impressive. All kinds of people die for what they believe in: some are good; some are bad; some are just crazy. Martyrs are different. Martyrs are witnesses. They are not afraid, for they have been loved. There is an enormous difference between a person who dies out of stupidity or hatred or insanity and a martyr who dies joyfully because of a love that is greater than any suffering, who dies because no earthly suffering can take away the joy that God gives.

Our response to the Easter journey we are making at Mass today should be as fearless as the response of the two disciples who ran from Emmaus to Jerusalem in the middle of the night. Perhaps it would be easier to be fearless if Jesus would reveal himself to us as he did to those two disciples. Yet Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen yet believe.” Someday we will see him face to face, but today Jesus continues to remain hidden from us.

Meanwhile, we are on a journey. If we want to see Jesus with the eyes of our hearts, we have to keep moving forward. We have to cast aside the toys we are accustomed to play with in this life. We have to conduct ourselves with reverence during our time on this journey. The price has been paid to free us from our sins. This price was not paid with something useless like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. We should not whine like toddlers at the prospect of losing our amusements. The time has come to take life seriously, to seriously rejoice in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection and to forget all the cheap substitutes we have been using in place of real joy.