This past week was a time of sojourning for me. I traveled to the area where I grew up and spent a week there. The trip was not for pleasure necessarily, but for a funeral. As in all Christian funerals it was both a time of the sorrow through loss and a time of joy in the resurrection of the body to come. After the Mass was over and the last notes of Taps faded (the burial included military honors), and the final "amen" was spoken, it became clear to me that while my father's sojourn had ended, mine was simply changing. All journeys have their twists and turns and all things in this life continue to shift and change. I could see that the presence of God was no less visible in the beautiful blossoms of springtime than in the breaking of the bread which we had experienced just minutes earlier in the Church. All it takes is the eyes of faith to see and the ears of belief to hear that, in fact, Jesus Christ has risen and has conquered death. During the rest of the week, especially in the time we spent going to places I had not been in years, the echo of "Alleluia! He has risen!" continued to resound. This recognition was enabled because of the breaking of bread and the community of believers who were partaking in it joined in faith and hope in the gift given us by Jesus before He died.
Although the focus in this Sunday’s liturgy is on the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is the second reading which grabbed my attention. The author said: "...Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb." (1Peter1:17-19) Jesus gave his Body and Blood to us as ransom for our sins and in doing so He gave us life imperishable. Jesus has gifted us with all that we need to traverse this life, with its many ups and downs. He made the perfect offering for us so that we might live in the joy of knowing that nothing we do can separate us from Him. He paid the price so that we could have everlasting life.
As Peter said in his letter, we ought to conduct ourselves with reverence because like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we are not alone. Jesus accompanies us no matter where we are. He comes with us and He is readily accessible at all times. However, just as the two disciples failed to recognize Him we, too, often fail to recognize Him. He is with us when we are with strangers in all sorts of places, such as in a restaurant or supermarket, in an airport, or walking in the street. He is with us as we go to a beautiful seashore or park, or as we sit in our own back yards "contemplating" our garden. The presence of God is all around us in each and every encounter and therefore we need to conduct ourselves reverently, remembering that we are in His presence.
The challenge, of course, is when we are not in a pleasant encounter or when we are in a time of suffering. It is easy to see Jesus in the beauty of nature or in a peaceful setting, but when we are in a time of trial or suffering it is much more of a challenge to recognize that He is among us. Just as the two disciples on the road were bemoaning that the man whom they thought was “the One” had died and therefore must not have been "the One," we should not make the mistake of thinking that He is absent from us in the midst of a dark time. He is with us whether we are aware or not, just as with the two disciples. He continually reveals Himself, but we need to open our eyes and ears to Him. And likewise we need not return to the empty tomb over and again to see if He really is not there. We must trust that what we have seen and heard is real. The truth is that Jesus is not there, but rather He walks by our sides fulfilling promises He made long ago that He would remain with us.
Easter is a joyous time, but it does not mean we should deny that we have many burdens to carry and many challenges to face. Christ is just as raised for us during our times of suffering as He is for us in times of joy; and we are just as loved when we are facing a difficult situation as when we are in a time of celebration. The circumstances of our lives do not change the reality that Jesus Christ has risen and that He loves us way beyond anything we can image or understand. But what He offers us that make all the difference is the strength we receive from the Eucharist. He left us His Body and Blood so that we would have access to His direct presence at all times. He left us the sacraments so that we could have safer passage through the snares of sin and the temptations to which we sometimes fall prey. And He also left us His Body, that is, His Church, the community of believers which supports us and helps us to circumnavigate through the rough waters of life.
Just because He has risen our lives do not automatically get easier. In fact, for the early Christians their lives became even more challenging as they tried to bring the same message abroad that got Jesus killed in the first place. In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2) Peter stood up and proclaimed to the crowds that Jesus was indeed the Son of God who had come to redeem us. While many came to believe, we see that just a few days after this he and John were arrested for preaching the gospel and healing someone in Jesus’ name. They had to trust in the presence of Jesus with them as they brought His message to others: they were definitely not alone. Just as with the apostles, we do not go it alone either. Because we have the Body of Christ to partake of in the Eucharist, His presence continues to move among us and through us to others. We have the strength to persevere when times are difficult. We also have the courage to act with reverence, bringing the same love which He offers to us to those around us. We make His presence known by our acts of love given to the people we encounter day to day. For some, our actions will be the only 'Acts of the Apostles' they ever read.
If we allow ourselves to see Jesus by faith and experience Him through love, we can be like the two disciples, who upon arriving in Emmaus invited the stranger to dine with them, only to discover that the stranger was actually Jesus fully present through love. We can be like those disciples feeling our hearts burn within us because we are in the presence of Christ. He is present in the Eucharist, but that presence will stay in the tabernacle, so to speak, if we do not take Him along with us on our sojourn in order to be comforted, strengthened, and empowered by Him and to bring Him outwards to others by our acts of kindness, compassion, mercy, and love. Let us be like the two disciples on the road who rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the others what we have experienced, filled with the joy of recognition. Let us share what we have received as we become what we eat: Eucharistic presence for those whom we meet. Let us live our lives in the joyful hope of knowing He is with us and His love is everlasting. No matter what we have done, how low we may have fallen, how small or weak we think we are, let us remember that He died and rose for us because He loves us. We do not have to earn it nor do we have to be “good enough” for it: it is freely given in love for us.
May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the Good News that Jesus is present in the bread broken and shared! May we be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who welcomed Jesus and then ran to share the Good News with their friends! May we become the bread broken and blessed for others, sharing the love of Christ by our actions! And may we accept the gift of His presence with us on our sojourn, allowing Jesus to guide us home to Heaven! Let us continue to meet in the Eucharist! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
I took the top photo at Montauk Point, Long Island during my sojourn this week. The painting is The Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund.
The icon is The Galilean Jesus by Fr. William Hart McNichols and can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/293-the-galilean-jesus
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Heart Speaks to Heart