On Bright Tuesday we detour briefly from the Gospel of John to St Luke chapter 24 for the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and to a "stranger" who travels with them. What a remarkable reading!
First of all, the two disciples, Cleopas and (according to tradition) Luke, are on the road leaving Jerusalem where the other disciples are gathered. Why are they leaving? We do not know, but we do know that they are not gathered with the other disciples of Jesus. They are dejected and confused and, in that state, leave the fellowship.
It is fascinating, then, and almost humorous, that Jesus joins them unrecognized and asks them, in effect, "What in the world must you be talking about that you’re traveling like this, and so sad?"
Cleopas’ reply is rather ironic in that he identifies Jesus as a “stranger”. It is an interesting choice of words because it’s not the usual Greek word for stranger but a word that literally means one who dwells somewhere where they are not a citizen. Jesus stated during his trial that his Kingdom was not of this world. And the same word Luke uses here is used in Acts to refer to the Israelites in Egypt, thus linking it to the Passover/Paschal story.
Jesus’ reply to Cleopas’ question about how can he not be aware of the recent events in Jerusalem elicits his own question, “What things?“ This simple question, of course, does not proceed from ignorance, but is a ploy inviting them to narrate the Gospel story, the Paschal mystery, as a statement of faith, not unlike we do in baptism and the Liturgy in confessing our faith via the Creed. And, thus, it is a precursor to the Eucharistic supper at Emmaus where Jesus reveals himself.
Their “creed”, however, is, rather incomplete. They identify Jesus simply as a prophet whom they hoped would deliver the people from Rome. They need a better faith, a better confession, a Paschal faith!
As Cleopas makes his incomplete confession (his not-quite-Orthodox creed) we get, again, another almost humorous moment as Cleopas says, “And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.” It’s humorous, of course, because the one “they did not see” is standing right in front of them! But they do not see him, either. They will not “see” him until the breaking of bread.
Jesus, then, gently chides them for being slow of heart and unwilling to believe the prophets and then opens the Scriptures to them to explain the Paschal mystery. As they draw near to Emmaus, he indicates that he is going to continue on, “But they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us....’
“Now this is very important. And here the story reaches its climax. The whole passage is clearly liturgical in character: Jesus comes to his disciples; they make their confession of faith (albeit incomplete); he opens the Scriptures to them. But then he makes as if he is going to go on. It is important – essential! – that they constrain him to abide with them. If they let him go, if they allow him to slip away from them, then there is no Liturgy, no knowledge of his resurrection and no Eucharistic communion and the realization of Christ’s presence with them. They must constrain him.
Implored to remain with them, Jesus, the guest, becomes the host of the supper. His unmistakably Eucharistic actions of taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it to them, become the occasion that makes him known to them. In the Eucharist their eyes are opened and they confess how their hearts had burned within them as Christ had opened the Scriptures to them. And this communion leads them to immediately return to Jerusalem to the communion of the gathered church, the disciples of Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, we, like them, must constrain Jesus to abide with us. Christ must be the guest at our gathering so that he can be the host of our Eucharist. Only then can our eyes, the Scriptures, and the whole world be open to us. Without him we travel alone and our eyes, the Scriptures, and everything remains closed to us.
How important, then, are the prayers and hymns of the Liturgy! How important is our preparation for Holy Communion! These prayers, Psalms, and hymns, all have as their purpose our supplication, our constraining, of Christ to come and abide with us. It is essential, then, that we be present, and not merely as spectators, but as disciples, liturgists, and as lovers of the risen Christ, whom we long to have in our midst.
Risen Lord Jesus, be our guest at every Liturgy,
and thus be our host,
now, and in the banquet of the Kingdom of God!
With love in Christ,