THE EMMAUS ENCOUNTER
Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
There is such a thing as an awkward moment. It describes an embarrassing situation with no remedy; it could also be called a messy situation. For example, imagine forgetting your friend’s name while introducing them to another friend or texting a lousy joke to your friend only to realize that it went to your boss or superior.
I once witnessed an awkward moment and wished it had never happened. We were two seminarians on a pastoral assignment (apostolic work) at a parish in my country, Nigeria. One day, we were sitting facing each other outside the rectory, talking, when my colleague brought up the issue of the parish priest and how he was mean and not taking care of us compared to other seminarians in other parishes.
He scarcely had started talking when the priest showed up behind him carrying a shopping bag. Because I was facing my colleague, I saw the priest, but I could not stop him as the priest placed a finger over his mouth, indicating that I should not give him away. So, I sat and listened like a stone.
After talking for some time and not getting any supportive vibe from me, my colleague asked if I was okay, and I said yes. However, before he could ask why I was not saying anything, the priest coughed, and, looking over his shoulder; my colleague saw the priest standing behind him.
What made the situation very awkward was not that the priest walked into an ugly speech about him; he was looking for us to give us some things he bought for us at the shop downtown with some money, and he still did, sat down, and talked about other things, and left. We didn’t get over that awkward moment. My colleague was quick to judge, but he was wrong. In life, never conclude about anyone because of what you see today; tomorrow may prove you wrong.
The Emmaus Journey
The Gospel Reading of this Third Sunday of Easter (Luke 24:13-35) tells us about two disciples of Jesus traveling from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus, a seven miles journey by foot. The Gospel narrative identified one as Cleopas, while the other is unknown. However, some scripture scholars thought it could be Mary, the wife of Cleopas, just as some bible illustrations show a man and a woman with Jesus on the way to Emmaus.
We do not know why they were going to Emmaus, but the apprehension following the resurrection of Jesus troubled them like other disciples too. Suddenly Jesus showed up and walked along with them as they talked about him. It could have been an awkward moment like in my story, but their eyes were blinded from recognizing that the stranger who abruptly joined them was Jesus, so that embarrassing moment was suspended.
When Jesus inquired about the topic of their discussion, they faulted him as the only stranger in Jerusalem who didn’t know of the breaking news in the past days concerning the passion and death of Jesus, a prophet and wonder worker.
Most significantly, they related the news about the resurrection of the same Jesus who was killed following the treacherous plot of the chief priest and rulers and how some women visited the tomb early on that First day of the week only to discover an empty tomb and saw visions of angels confirming his resurrection.
As soon as they mentioned the resurrection, the stranger they taught was ignorant about the person and mission of Christ turned around to fault them for being slow to recall and believe the words of the prophets about the Messiah. And beginning with Moses explained the scriptures to them.
Getting to Emmaus, Jesus gave the impression that he was going further, but they urged him to stay with them because it was approaching the end of the day. So now at the table, he took bread and said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and instantly, their eyes opened, and they recognized that it was Jesus, but he vanished from their sight to save them that awkward moment.
Moving Forward: Lessons from the Emmaus Journey
The journey to Emmaus represents our life’s journey, and from the high point in the encounter of the two disciples of Jesus on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, we learn some powerful lessons that can assist us as we go through life.
We need Christ in our Life’s Journey: Life without Christ is a crisis. The two disciples, just like the others, were facing an intense crisis moment. Unfortunately, we do not have details about the purpose of their journey to Emmaus, but we can guess that they were walking away from the atmosphere of Jerusalem that housed the events of the time.
Their exit from Jerusalem did not change anything, as they were still troubled by the happenings. They had lots of questions but few answers. Sometimes in life, we find ourselves in the same place of crisis. Sometimes we walk into our comfort zones, which still do not change anything. But when Christ comes, we get clarity.
We need an Encounter: It is one thing to walk with Christ like the two disciples, but it is an entirely different thing to encounter him. Transformation only came to the two disciples when they encountered Jesus through the Word of God and at the breaking of bread.
Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, starting with Moses through the prophets. The Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) says that the word of God is something alive and active that cuts more finely than a two-edged sword. The disciples testified that their hearts were burning within them while he opened the scriptures to them. There would be the need for us to return to the word of God. It remains a lamp for our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).
What happened at the table that evening was a replay of the Last Supper. So, Jesus took bread, blessed it, and gave it to them, and their eyes opened, and they recognized Jesus. The Holy Eucharist reveals the whole of Christ, and we become one with him by participating (John 6:56).
We need to become Witnesses: One instruction that followed the resurrection was witnessing. Recall that Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee and they will see me there.” (Matt. 28:10). Recall that Jesus told them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them everything he taught them; that is witnessing (Matt. 28:19-20). And before his ascension, Jesus told them they would be His witnesses after receiving the Holy Spirit and power (Acts 1:8).
Notice that as soon as the disciples recognized Jesus at the breaking of bread, they left immediately to witness the risen Lord. Life’s journey will be fruitless if we do not become witnesses not just by words but also by our ways of life.
Have a blissful Third Sunday of Easter!