THEY TURNED BACK IN HOPE
“With that their eyes were opened and they recognised him, but he vanished from their sight. … So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them.” (Luke 24: 31, 33)
One of the very well known passages in Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 24) is the encounter of two of the disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It tells the story of Cleopas and his companion who, somewhat downcast and dispirited, were leaving the city after the crucifixion of Jesus and his burial. They had heard stories that Jesus was alive but they, being realists, tended to dismiss these stories in a very kindly way. Their disappointment at the outcome of the last few days is very clear. Luke projects an image of two men with very heavy hearts because all their hopes of relief from their spiritual, emotional and social burdens had been dashed. Even the leaders of their society seemed to have conspired against Jesus which meant that they couldn’t expect much inspiration from them either. It was perhaps better to get away from all this sadness – just to walk away from it all and get on with life. The way Luke tells the story they met up with a complete stranger and were not at all reticent about spreading their gloomy outlook.
Rather than adopting a casual or passing (albeit polite) disinterest, this stranger took them seriously and engaged them in active conversation in an effort to get them out of their negativity. He drew upon what they had learnt over the years and tried to help them see how all the things they had witnessed were really to be expected but must be taken in the context of their present circumstances to be better understood. They gained some encouragement from that and invited this stranger to stay with them for the evening meal and perhaps even longer. It is very significant that they did not recognise that the stranger was indeed Jesus until he “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24: 30). With that, we are told, they eyes were opened – they recognised Jesus – he was indeed risen from the dead – their hopes were not dashed after all – things are indeed different but in a way that they had not expected. With hearts ‘burning within them’ and with renewed energy they immediately went back to the community to share their restored hope.
The story of Cleopas and his companion, while ancient, is very much part of our experience today. There are many things today that can sadden us. There are many things that disappoint us and for us to be worried about. There are times when we can feel very disillusioned about life’s events. Sometimes we can feel so overwhelmed that we cannot even recognise God’s place in our lives let alone feel his love. Of course some learning helps, and centring our reflection with prayer can make things clearer. But it is the experience of Eucharist as a real encounter with the person of Jesus that restores our hope and gives us renewed energy. It is in the Eucharist that we are united not only with the Jesus who suffers and dies with and for us, but also with the Risen Jesus who has broken wide our oppression and who restores our sight.
The Holy Father recently published a document that draws together the work of the Synod of Bishops meeting on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s mission. Given our current world turmoil, that document seems to be very timely as it renews our understanding of the central place of the personal presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Just like Cleopas and his companion we can find inspiration and affirmation in experiencing the presence of Jesus in our own day. Many in our Defence community are in situations of danger and discomfort. We can be seriously affected by feelings of hopelessness and disappointment. We can be worried about what the future might hold in store. We can even feel disillusioned by the seeming failures of others. Easter is a good time to remember that Jesus shares everything with us, he constantly walks alongside us, he listens to us and, if we give him the chance, he will engage in our conversation. It is also a time to remember that we can spend good personal and intimate time with him through our participation in the Mass and by receiving him in Holy Communion.
It is my earnest prayer that this Easter we will all experience that rejuvenation that comes from our celebration of Mass so that we can be encouraged to turn ourselves around and return to contribute to a community that is affirmed in faith, energised by hope and motivated by love to be agents of peace, freedom and security. May we like Cleopas and his companion turn back in hope to the community and share with others not only our negatives but also our joys.
I am sure that, as Mary was with the eleven when the disciples returned from the road to Emmaus and joined in the joy of their renewed hope, she is always there to welcome us and help us in our encounters with each other and with her son, Jesus. Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us.