Dear Brothers and Sisters, one of the joys of Eastertide is hearing the accounts of the appearances of Jesus after his Resurrection. Today, we hear the familiar and beautiful account of Jesus accompanying two perplexed and downhearted disciples on their way to the village of Emmaus. This was the very day Jesus had risen. In a Benedictine monastery near Aachen, the American-German painter, Janet Brooks Gerloff, was asked to paint this scene. The left side of the picture shows two men from behind; they are dressed in black (they are mourning their hopes); they are hunched, they seem burdened. On their right, more or less in the centre of the painting, is a quite transparent figure, light rather than dark, walking with them. They are clearly explaining things to him, one has his head slightly turned in his direction, the other has his right hand gently touching Jesus’ left shoulder. They are walking through a non-descript, featureless, dusty, sand-coloured landscape, with what looks like an empty tomb near the roadside. But there is light on the horizon ahead of them. Without knowing it, the two dark figures are passing from darkness into light. The painting became well-known; it went viral and is often reproduced. It takes on still more meaning from its place in the monastery. It hangs on a wall of the cloister, facing the monks at the place where they line up several times a day before processing into church to pray. They face the same way as the three figures, maybe with their own burdens, but aware too that, with Jesus, they entering the light. The Emmaus story clearly evokes the Christian liturgy. First, Jesus takes the two disciples through Scripture. Then he breaks bread with them at table, and they recognise him. May the Christ, then, of the Way to Emmaus lead us to discover him in Word and Sacrament and, beyond that, in our personal mission in life.
These appearances have so much to give us. They must have been many, not all of them recorded. They show how free he was, all authority having been given him. He appears where he wills: in a garden, in rooms, at table, on a shore, on a mountain, on the road. Nowhere impedes him; it’s all his. Over 40 days, says St Luke, our Lord gave many proofs of his being alive (cf. Acts 1:3). And he appeared for one single overarching reason: to move his disciples from confusion, uncertainty, fear, sadness, grief, doubt, unbelief to a strong and certain faith and an active love. He had passed from death to life, and he wanted them to pass from their own darkness into his light, from loss to joy.
A striking feature is how the Lord appears differently to people. Sometimes when they are alone. So, according to the New Testament, to Peter, to James, to Mary Magdalene and, according to a wholesome tradition, also to his mother Mary. At the other end of the spectrum, he appears to disciples gathered together, to the community, if you like: the 11 in the Upper Room, the 7 in their boat, and once, says St Paul, to “more than five hundred” (1 Cor 15:6). So, there are appearances to single individuals and appearances to many, and in the middle, there is this appearance to two disciples.
Let’s think about this.
Our Lord comes to us when we are alone, in our solitude. Perhaps alone in the beauty of nature or awake at night or sitting by ourselves. And there he meets us: in our thoughts, in our prayer, in our most intimate experiences, be they good or hard. He speaks to the heart, to our conscience, that inmost sanctuary of our identity. And there he reaches us, changes us, leads us from our negativities to strong and certain faith and to active love.
Again, he meets us when we are together, especially when we meet as the Church, as the community of believers. There, he comes to us through the Word of God and the Sacraments. He is present to us when as we heard last Sunday, we “devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). We realise we are not alone. We are members of a body. We share in the truth, the life and the solidarity of the Church, the Church of which he is Head, Shepherd, Teacher, High Priest, and Lord, and where he leads us out of our closed selves to a life of faith and love.
Then today’s Gospel shows us another path he takes, another of his doors into our lives: through our close relationships. The two on the road were “talking with each other” about their experiences. They were engaged in conversation. They were trying to understand the Jesus whose death had shocked them. They were bewildered and grieving. And “Jesus himself drew near to them and went with them.” These two were friends – it was good friendship; they were looking for truth together. They were mates. Or perhaps they were even a couple, a brother and a sister, or a man and his wife. (We know that one of them was a man, Cleopas, but the other is unnamed, and there is no indication of gender). Whoever they were, Jesus met them as a pair, as friends, and transformed their lives together.
Here’s something for us surely. Our Lord is invested in our whole life. He wants to enter our personal, individual life, our solitude, as he shared Mary Magdalene’s and Peter’s. He wants to share too our particular relationships, our friendships, our marriage surely. He wants “to show himself alive” there, the hidden third in the midst. And he wants to share our broader social co-existence and meet us, especially, in the life of the Church. So, we in turn can cherish every dimension of our lives. Cherish silence and solitude, not be afraid of them. It is a tragedy if, every time we are alone, we have to message someone else. Why not text Jesus? Why not pray? Let’s deliberately take time to be alone with the Lord. And so with our close relationships. Let us cherish our friends, our spouse, our time together. Let’s not be afraid to discuss the things of the spirit together, and to pray together. And finally let us love to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, for there especially Christ waits for us.