When I was a new priest one of the things that I found most moving and still do is the celebration of the sacrament of penance. The parish where I was assigned had an image of today’s Gospel, the road to Emmaus, that hung behind the person coming to reconciliation. The classic painting is by Robert Zund. It shows Jesus walking between the two disciples along a beautiful wooded road explaining the Scriptures to them. He explained the reason behind the suffering, the Passion and the resurrection.
It is a very reflective painting. I would often find myself looking at it as I listened to a person share their story as to how they found God or were looking for God in the midst of their suffering, pain and sin. I would ponder how they were very much on their own road to Emmaus walking toward a deeper experience and revelation of Christ. The painting reminded me how Christ was with them every step of the way though he is at times hard to recognize. This really is each of us.
The passage in Luke bears the mark of not only the recording of the historical encounter on the road to Emmaus, but also the teaching of the church as to how it read the Old Testament under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and came to more fully understand the reason for the Passion, death and resurrection of Christ. The church also recorded within this Emmaus story its coming to understand and recognize the truth of Christ’s ongoing presence in the Eucharist. The story of Emmaus is conveying both history and theology. One could say it parallels the structure of the Mass as it moves from the Scriptures to Communion.
The road to Emmaus also conveys the truth that we don’t often recognize the Lord as with us during both the good and difficult times. The apostles remark, “were not our hearts burning within us as he explained the Scriptures,” reveals their excitement of the obvious presence of God they had along the way. I can think of moments of similar joy when looking back with hindsight at experiences of conversation or friendship where our hearts were “burning” so to speak with the joy of the presence of God.
We also know though there are times of great difficulty where discerning his presence is not as easy, even upon hindsight. Suffering and sorrow, similar to the apostle’s sadness over the death of Jesus, seems to rob us of our faith and peace. The road to Emmaus challenges us to not lose heart and keep walking. The full revelation of his presence did not come until the end of the journey. If there are areas of our life where he seems hidden from us, we are challenged to try and keep holding onto him through his presence in the Eucharist at each Mass. Life is very much a road to an eternal Emmaus, and not all is clear along the way.
Questions for Reflection
1. What am I talking about with Jesus on my road to Emmaus?
2. Where do I need the gift of faith to keep walking?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.