Emmaus and the Church in Distress – Fr Harold Parilla

Luke 24:13-35, 3rd Sunday of Easter

Emmaus Parilla

It is now the third Sunday of Easter but the atmosphere is strangely quiet. The streets are not as crowded and the malls are closed. It feels like the Holy Week of my childhood except that the churches too are inaccessible.

Donagh O’Shea said that the Emmaus story featured in the Gospel reading for this Sunday is an image of the life of the Church. Heartbroken by what happened at Calvary, the disciples went away to Emmaus, pouring their hearts out to a stranger who walked with them. Unrecognized at first, this stranger eventually revealed to them his real identity in the “breaking of bread”.

The parallelisms between the elements of the story and our virus-induced context today are difficult to ignore. Like that of the disciples, the face of the Church today is downcast. People are scared. Businesses are down. Many workers have lost their source of livelihood. Celebrations of the mass in public are prohibited. The horizon ahead is dark as we are unsure when exactly are we able to return to our former way of life. It feels like the walk from Jerusalem towards Emmaus is taking place all over again.

Today, scholars and archaeologists are divided over the actual location of this place mentioned in the story. John Pilch said that pilgrims to modern-day Israel are surprised to learn that as many as six (6) sites are identified as Emmaus, the more popular ones being Latrun, Abu Ghosh and Qubeiba.

While experts debate over where Emmaus actually existed, I would like to think that it is not simply a specific geographical location. More than anything else, it is a place where the heart grieves. Emmaus is where discouragement brings us, when our hearts are emptied of joy and color or when things go wrong contrary to expectations. Today the Church, if not the entire world, is experiencing what we may call a collective walk toward our common Emmaus.

The parallelism does not end there. The Gospel story tells us that out of nowhere, a stranger joined the desolate disciples. He listened to them, and then offered his own perspective about what happened in Jerusalem. But more importantly, the stranger walked with them. Jesus, unrecognized, journeyed with them in their confusion and grief.

I would like to think that we have here not just an image of the Church in distress but also a metaphor of a God who has promised to be Emmanuel to us. “I will be with you always” (cf. Mt 28:20) is not just any slogan dropped by a campaigning politician but a divine promise being brought to fulfillment even now. People may be asking where God is in the time of covid-19. We may be unable to easily recognize him, but we are certain in faith that he is now walking with us, as he always does.

He is there in the unnamed Grab driver who ferries back and forth the hospital front-liners in Quezon City. He is present in the doctors, nurses and medical practitioners all over the world who risk their own safety in order to keep alive those who are at death’s door. He works through hundreds of volunteers who raise funds, distribute relief goods, produce masks, and ship out PPEs to hospitals and clinics. He fuels the desire of policymakers who scramble for the right approach and inspires scientists who are groping for a cure. Like he did with the disciples, he sets our hearts on fire with hope even as we flounder in uncertainty and fear at the same time.

How does the Gospel story end? The disciples never got to Emmaus. The stranger unveiled his face in the “breaking of bread” and turned the direction of the disciples back to Jerusalem. We pray that our own story today ends in a similar way. We pray that we never get to our own bleak Emmaus because Christ has joined us on the road and has burnt holes of hope in our flagging hearts.

*image from the Internet

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