Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Sunday Reflection
from the womb of my whale, ALS
Our cross is the pulpit of the Word

Aren’t you going the wrong way?

Year A – Easter – 3rd Sunday
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Sunday of Emmaus and Christ the Pilgrim

The Great Sunday and the 7 Passovers

The Church celebrates the mystery of Easter during 7 weeks, from Easter to Pentecost, a period of fifty days, the time of “holy joy”, considered by the ancient Church fathers as “the great Sunday”. Throughout this time, liturgical prayer was done standing, as a sign of the resurrection: “We consider that we are not allowed to fast or pray on our knees on Sundays. We practice the same abstention with joy from Easter Day until Pentecost” (Tertullian).

These seven Sundays invite us to celebrate Easter… seven times (the fullness!). If last Sunday was the Easter of Thomas, today is the Easter of the two disciples of Emmaus, narrated by Luke! This concludes the (three) Sundays in which the gospel presents us with resurrection stories.

The three Paschal apparitions in Luke

In chapter 24, the final chapter of his gospel, Luke tells us about three apparitions:
1. the first, on Easter morning, that of the angels to the women, at the empty tomb;
2. the second, in the afternoon of the same day, the appearance of the Risen Lord to the two disciples walking on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus;
3. the third, in the evening, the appearance of Jesus to the Eleven in Jerusalem.

The three apparitions are to testify to the reality of the resurrection, but also to evangelise the disciples about the meaning of what had happened, which had so scandalised them and left them in complete dismay.

Everything ends with the ascension into heaven. Note well that it all takes place on the same day, Easter Day! It is an exaggeratedly long day! How so? How can this be reconciled with what the other evangelists recount? One must remember that the gospels were written several decades later. The facts were by then known within the Christian communities, handed down orally. The evangelists, in writing their gospel, take into account not only history, but also, above all, the situation of their communities. That is, they have a theological and catechetical intention. Here Luke wants to present to us what is the typical Sunday of the Christian. This is a literary artifice. In fact, at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles he presents things a little differently: “He showed himself to them alive, after his passion, with many proves, during forty days” (1:3). But let us turn to the text of the gospel.

Gospel in miniature

The narration of the wayfarers of Emmaus is one of the most evocative accounts in the gospels. Says Card. Martini: “Gospel in miniature, it is a story where faith and emotion, reason and feeling, sorrow and joy, doubt and certainty come together, touching the deepest chords of the reader, whether a believer or only in search, creating profound resonances to the desire to set out towards the One who offers the fullness of happiness.”

Who are the two disciples?

One is called Cleopas. According to a 2nd century tradition, Cleopas is said to be an uncle of Jesus, brother of St Joseph, a well-known person in the Christian community. Of the other disciple, no name is given. This allows us to identify ourselves with him or … with her! Yes, because – according to John 19:25, in the Jerusalem Bible version – Cleopas would have Mary, sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as his wife. The other disciple, therefore, could be… his wife! So, a couple?

The journey to Emmaus is not a leisurely stroll, but rather a return to their village, to their past, after the great disappointment; an escape from the crucified, after the resounding defeat. “We hoped that he was the one who would deliver Israel”.

The theme of the road is dear to Luke. Speaking by walking is what Jesus did on his ‘great journey’ to Jerusalem, which takes up no less than ten chapters (9:51-19:27). While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, the place of God’s manifestation, these two flee. The flight is the original sin of man and each one has his own Emmaus. It is not a place, but an escape mechanism that is often repeated in our lives. What is my Emmaus?

A fellow traveller

“Jesus himself drew near and walked with them”. But they were too sad and disappointed to recognise Him. The Lord makes them tell their (His) story and with the Word of Scripture helps them to reread it, to understand it; He illuminates it and gives it meaning. And then their heart is warmed and hope returns: “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us on the way, when he explained the Scriptures to us?”

It is the word that interprets life. Our view of the meaning of existence, the significance of the events of our history, all depends on the word we hear. Which word do I listen to in order to re-read my life? That of the ‘world’ or that of Christ?

The risen Lord follows us on our journeys, like the good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep that has wandered away from the community. The theologian P. A. Sequeri even says that God precedes us in our paths of bewilderment to set a trap for us and thus fall into his arms. He is “the God of a thousand ambushes”.

In abscense, an invisible presence!

Attracted by the mysterious Pilgrim, the two wayfarers invite him to stay with them: “Stay with us, for it is getting evening and the day is drawing to a close”. And, at the “breaking of the bread” (an expression for the Eucharist), “their eyes were opened and they recognised him. But he disappeared from their sight’. When they ‘see’ him, finally, he can make himself invisible. For he is no longer outside them, but within them! And they return to Jerusalem, to the community, to share their joy and to be, in turn, invigorated by the witness of the others. For joy, like faith, is multiplied by sharing it.

This story is a fine summary of Sunday, with its allusion to the Christian community, to the liturgy of the Word that illuminates life’s events, to the Eucharistic liturgy that nourishes us, and to the Christian’s mission to testify that Christ is risen. Are we Christians of Easter Sunday?

Fr. Manuel João, comboni missionary
Castel d’Azzano (Verona) 22nd April 2023