14th January 2023
I was looking for Emmaus on the modern map. There is Abu Gosh, there is Latrun. We don’t know where Emmaus is but it seems to be west of Jerusalem. Our story opens on Sunday, after the heavy events of Good Friday. The two disciples are sad. They are leaving Jerusalem, walking to the west, a symbolic direction. They are heading towards sunset, towards night and darkness. Along the way, they meet a stranger who asks how they are and what they are talking about.
They reply, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there? And the stranger responds, “What things?”
“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet powerful in word and deed. We had hoped that he would be the One, we had hoped that he would save us.”
If you look at the story of Emmaus, you might see in this story three movements that are also found in the Eucharist. If the Emmaus story and the Eucharist were a symphony, there would be three movements to them.
The first movement, the movement of lament and longing, starts with largo or adagio or lento. Slow. Then the second movement, the movement of storytelling, picks up the pace a bit and might be more andante or moderato. The third movement, the meal and fellowship, would be allegro, vivace, presto. It is this last that moves them to run back to Jerusalem, to the east, to the place of sunrise and hope.
We go through all three movements when we celebrate the Eucharist.
The first movement, largo, lento, is the movement of longing and lament, the movement of “we had hoped.” The movement of broken promises, betrayal, loss, guilt. We begin every mass acknowledging these. We say Kyrie eleison – Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. It is the movement of depression, desolation, hunger. We confess our loss of hope. We are walking towards twilight. And the Lord meets us along the way. But we still don’t recognize him.
The second movement is the movement of story. Ritually, we listen to the readings. We respond with the Responsorial Psalm. We tell each other stories, as around a campfire. And so today, we remember the stories we’ve heard, stories we’ve shared as we visited the places of our pilgrimage, how we all began.
Remember how we began with our Lord’s baptism by the river Jordan. I remember that mass because I could see from your faces how happy you all were. I wrote in my journal that day how heartwarming it was to see your love for our Lord. “They love you, Lord; they love you.” I knew it, I could feel it.
Then there were the leisurely strolls around the Mount of the Beatitudes, the holy silence when we were in the Sea of Galilee, Tabgha and the morning shore where our risen Lord had breakfast with the apostles, then to Nazareth, Mt Tabor, Bethlehem, the Via Dolorosa, and so many other places. In these places and at various moments of our journey, did we not sense our hearts quickening and warming? Were not our hearts burning? As did the disciples’ hearts when the stranger told them stories while walking to Emmaus?
Personally, I have been moved by tears at various points in our journey. We smile on the outside when we have our pictures taken but something is also happening inside us. Even yesterday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, despite the crowds, there at the tomb or the place of the cross, were not our hearts burning?
The Liturgy of the Word, the second movement, where we tell stories along the way, closes with our petitions. These petitions are variations of the one petition of the disciples at Emmaus: “Stay with us.” Please do not leave us. It is nearly evening; the day is almost over; our lives are almost done.
Stay with us. In the story, playing “hard to get” pa si Lord. He looks to go farther but they prevail upon him. The Lord relents; he stays and goes inside with them. They share a meal.
They have fellowship. The third movement. The gathering around a table. Our group warms to this third movement. We are always asking what we will eat, where we will eat. We tell each other what’s good, what’s not. Try this, don’t try that. Hummus? Hummus na naman? 🙂 When the first Christians celebrated the Eucharist, it was potluck. The Eucharist was people bringing in all sorts of dishes, I guess very much like the variety we see on our tables here.
However, at the heart of the Eucharist is the bread and wine. A meal in remembrance of a different sort of Passover, a meal taken by a people in flight, standing up, with loins girt, about to escape. The bread is not leavened so as not to spoil so easily on a long journey. Bread made from grain, from seeds that have died. The wine is made from grapes that have been plucked and crushed and pressed down. In bread and wine, we see sustenance for the journey, but we also see pain and sorrow and sacrifice. In bread and wine, we see what our Lord wanted us to see, his body and blood, the gift of his very self.
This third movement is marked by four important actions done mainly with the bread. Bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given. When the stranger does all four actions with the bread, the two disciples realize they’ve seen these before. Déjà vu. In the multiplication of loaves, in the Caenaculum, the upper room, before the Passion; in the breaking of bread, that is his body. It is a different sort of Passover in which there is no lamb of sacrifice because he is the Lamb of God. And the wine is his blood. At the moment they recognize him, he mysteriously disappears. But their hearts quicken. Allegro, presto. What do they do? They run back to Jerusalem, excitedly I imagine. They return east, to the place of light and hope. There they hear other stories that Christ is indeed risen. Then with hearts burning, they tell their own story.
Dear friends, we need not be in Emmaus every time nor in these holy places to see the Lord in our midst. We need only come together and celebrate the Eucharist. When we leave the Holy Land, there will still be the Eucharist. We will still gather around a table, share stories, and we will not be alone in our longing and lamentation. We will recognize our Lord and rejoice in the breaking of bread. Even if we should find ourselves at times walking away, moving towards the west, there will be a stranger to meet us along the way, telling us stories to set our hearts on fire. Mysteriously, this stranger will quicken our hearts and move our lives. Happily, we shall recognize him as he feeds our body and spirit with his own body and blood.
*delivered at the Abbaye Benedictine in Abu Gosh, one of the 3 possible Emmaus sites