Third Sunday of Easter

According to the gospel, Emmaus was about 7 miles from Jerusalem. And from archeological evidence through the years, scripture scholars place Emmaus at 10.5 to 12 km or 6.5 to 7.4 miles from Jerusalem. Now I did some math. 7 miles is about 15,000 steps on foot. From the Health app on my phone, I walk about 5-6,000 steps a day. When I was in New York City recently, rigorous walking put me between 18-20,000 steps a day. Now Emmaus to Jerusalem would have been a grueling day’s walk without our modern conveniences like proper footwear, sunscreen, rest stops for food and bathroom breaks. Nonetheless, the gospel recounts a simple story of two disciples on the road, and without knowing it, the risen Jesus walked with them.

While the location of Emmaus is somewhat disputed[1], we can probably identify places like Emmaus in our lives with greater accuracy. Emmaus was where two of Jesus’ disciples went to get away after the horrific trauma of Good Friday. Along our life journey, we too can identify occasions of major stress—the death of a loved one, divorce or separation, grave illness, imprisonment, or unemployment being the top adult life stressors. Major stress may tempt us to walk or run away, either physically or emotionally. We might seek the company of comfort food or addictive behavior. We can hide in an undisclosed secret location without phone service or internet access, or retreat to the inner room within our heart where no one can reach in and yank us out. Escape becomes an option when that major stress is simply too painful to face. But as Christians, we know we never walk the journey to Emmaus alone. Sometimes we walk with a friend, but we can trust that God also walks with us. Whether or not we feel it, Jesus shares our burden but only to the extent that we let him.

An important detail is that the story takes place three days after Good Friday. Aware of the long journey ahead of them, the disciples may have left early. But they did not know that the resurrection had already taken place. They could have needed three days to just get over their initial shock, and then to decide to do something. Regardless, Jesus had already addressed the cause of their grief, healing their loss to its depths. But it was all moot. Jesus was alive. And if they had known that, there would have been no point any longer to their grief. Similarly, with God, every challenge, every crisis, every trauma with all their complications, is already addressed and resolved. But we human beings are temporal creatures. We must experience in time the unfolding of God’s plan. We must endure grief, anger, despair, resignation, and acceptance of our most painful loss in real time. Grief and loss are but natural consequences of loving and being loved. So if we neither love nor are loved, it would be difficult to grasp what it feels like to lose that love. But it is part of our human condition. Even God chose not to bypass this very human reality, so his own Son had to face real suffering and real death in real time. That is why Jesus desires to walk with us, to listen, to comfort, and to share the heaviness of our hearts. Even if God desired to get rid of it, he may not set aside this burden of our nature. It is a cross we must bear, and a journey we must walk.

As they walked on the road, the disciples shared their deepest grief and pain. At first Jesus just listened. He knew exactly what they were discussing. But he had to let them talk. Hence the question, “What are you discussing?[2]” They had to articulate grief and pain as only they knew how. I imagine they shared moments of quiet sadness and moments of sheer rage. I imagine they yelled. They grit their teeth. They burst into tears. They clenched their fists. They stomped their feet. They just had to get it all out of their system, and it could not have been pretty. So we also need to give people who grieve room to unburden their hearts. Jesus walked with them, without judgment, listening, not saying much. He must have bit his tongue a few times, knowing what he knew. He could have just told them he was risen from the dead, and that there wasn’t anything for them to be upset about anymore. But he did not. It was necessary for them to embrace the suffering and loss of Good Friday, to prepare them for the joy of Easter Sunday.

When they were done venting their grief and their rage, Jesus took them on a journey through the scriptures, pointing out passages about the role of God’s anointed, shedding light on God’s design, helping them to see the truth that eluded them. Truth can be painful sometimes, and it is not always a kindness to withhold the truth. And in God’s plan for our healing, we must face the truth about ourselves, about God, about the world. We need to face our fears and prejudgments, perhaps to revise them or reject them. The healing God offers is effective only if we are willing to embrace God’s truth. And Jesus takes us on a journey through the scriptures when we break open God’s word in the homily, and when we study the bible. We cannot be content to just vent our grief and rage. We also need to want to hear what Jesus has to say.

When evening drew near, they decided to take shelter. They were hungry and exhausted from the journey. They may have feared the coming darkness and its dangers. But Jesus was on a roll, so they said to him, “Stay with us. It is nearly evening and the day is almost over.[3]” Jesus did not intend to impose on them, and he did not want to overstay his welcome. But when we embrace God’s truth, God will draw us closer to himself. God’s healing will want us to seek him with even greater freedom and urgency.

And Jesus joined them at table and broke bread with them. If they had missed all the other signs of his presence, this was a big one they could not possibly miss. And their eyes were opened. Jesus invites us to an intimacy in the Eucharist that we do not always receive eagerly and joyfully. As with any other human interaction, we can be present in body, while we are absent in mind and heart. So we can go through the motions at mass and still fail to grasp his presence, or it is unconvincing, like a dream or a passing suggestion. It fades as quickly as it comes. So the disciples discovered the measure of that intimacy when they exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?[4]” Jesus desires that we grasp his presence and the depth of his desire for our healing. And he will only stay if we ask him. So if we depart from the table of God’s Word and Eucharist to return to our lives, and we are still troubled by hunger, exhaustion, or fear of the darkness, we need to ask Jesus to stay. But if we are eager to leave him, moving on to the next thing on our day’s agenda, he remains a stranger to us. God walks with us every day. But do we grasp his presence and the depth of his healing? We might, if only we ask him to stay.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017


[2] Luke 24: 17

[3] Luke 24: 29

[4] Luke 24: 32