Recognizing Christ With Us

A lot of the Gospel stories given to us by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were intended to give us a personal connection to Jesus and his ministry, and to allow us to connect our own stories with the story of Jesus. Sometimes this works easily for us, and other times not so easily. Today’s story takes a little work, but ultimately, I think it does connect with what we already know about grace and the presence of God. It is Easter afternoon, and you and your friend have just heard from some women that they had found Jesus’ grave empty just this morning. Some of the men from your group checked out the story and it was true, at least the part about Jesus’ body being missing from the tomb. The idea of resurrection was a bit much,however, so you weren’t all that crazy about believing that part of the story. As you walk down that road, the two of you are sad, remembering Jesus as you had known him, as you had experienced his power and gentle manner. You remember every expression on his face; you remember every inflection of his voice. You remember his stories, his gestures of kindness, his powerful way of confronting the violence of the world around you. He had made you see the world in a new way, and had helped you believe that the Reign of God was already present in some mysterious way, but now you don’t know what to think or believe. The road to Emmaus is the road back to your hometown, the road to your old life before you even heard of Jesus. As you talk things out with your traveling companion, you encounter a stranger. He matches your stride step for step and eventually he enters your conversation. Incredibly, this man doesn’t seem to know anything about Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t know about the events of the previous week, and doesn’t understand why you and your friend are so morose. Instead of agreeing with your depressing outlook on life, he begins listing the scriptural prophecies that deal with the coming of the Messiah and he explain why Jesus the Messiah had to die. What he is saying to you isn’t easy for you to accept, and at times you strongly contest his opinions. The conversation continues for a long time, and by listening to his interpretations of scripture, you are more and more convinced that Jesus’ death was something that was inevitable. It isn’t until later, when you ask the stranger to join you for dinner, that the reality of the situation sinks in. He takes bread, says the blessing and as he breaks it, you see that he is really Jesus in your midst. You look at each other in astonishment. You exclaim to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the road?” Who can eat or sleep at a time like this? You both gather your things together and put on your cloaks and go out into the night. You will risk making the whole trip back to Jerusalem in the dangerous dark just so you can tell the others what happened to you. We are all on an Emmaus journey. We may be perplexed by events in our own lives, by disappointments, by the loss of a job, by our personal failures, by the collapse of a relationship. We have all had shattered dreams, and we know what it means to feel betrayed by people we trusted. We are profoundly disturbed by things that are happening in the larger Catholic Church, and we are deeply troubled by the levels of violence in our world–in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, the Middle East, in our own schools and neighborhoods. There are days when we see that everything looks bleak, and we can relate to the way those disciples felt. The answer for us, however, is not to lock ourselves away in fear, vainly trying to isolate ourselves from the world. And we can’t hope to fix things by ourselves either. No, the only viable response to what is happening in our world has to do with building community. This is true in spiritual matters and it is true in other areas of our lives as well. Think about mental illness or depression: going it alone without medication or support from doctors, health professionals and friends is not going to heal the disease. Think about the times when financial crises have loomed large and then someone came along at just the right moment and was able to help us. Think of the times when sickness and tragedy have come our way, when the support of family and friends helped see us through the dark times. We need to lean on one another for support because we can’t even hope to make sense of our lives all by ourselves. We need to search the Scriptures together, search our personal histories, explore the stories of God’s presence in other people’s lives in order to discover what answers they might hold for us. Community, this community, draws its strength primarily from the Sunday celebration of the Mass, where we gather in Jesus’ name to break bread and share the wine—the sacrament of his presence among us. The prayer groups, the book studies, the adult education classes, the retreat days, all of that derive from the power of the Eucharist for which we gather every Sunday. Sunday Eucharist, should never, never be from a sense of obligation that comes from some Church law, but rather of obligation that comes from a love of Jesus Christ and from a real consciousness that we need this companionship; we need one another; we need to be in community. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am among them,” Jesus said. It is here above all that we share the Scriptures, that we reflect on them. And it is here above all that our eyes are opened in the breaking of the bread, in the sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Here, at Eucharist, Jesus is no longer a stranger. We begin to know Him in a more intimate way, to see that His life did have profound meaning, that it did not end in failure, but rather in a transformed life. And it is through this communal experience of Eucharist, reflection on Scripture, prayer, and shared communion that we find new meaning for our lives, hope for the future, and transformation of our experience of Christian life. There are times when the truth of this gospel story of Emmaus has revealed itself in all our lives, at one time or another. There have been times when we have come to Mass weighed down by our problems, having lost sleep and not even feeling like being at church. We’re so powerless over our concerns and our heart is heavy. We’ve prayed to God, asking for help, but it seems fruitless. And then something someone says, maybe a hymn that we sing together, maybe a quiet movement of Spirit during the homily brings us to another level of consciousness. And we are changed in our outlook. There are times in our lives when we feel we just cannot make it. We’ve tried everything we know that has worked in the past, but nothing is happening for us now. Then, out of the blue, someone appears who in that moment becomes the presence of the Living Christ for us, and we are lifted out of our despair and brought to a higher level of gratitude for God’s goodness. Like the disciples, we realize we have been in the presence of God all along. Every Mass, at communion time, I break the bread and hold it up for you to consider, saying, “This is Jesus, the Lamb of God…” And you respond, “Lord, through your grace and mercy, you make me worthy to receive you…” Even as you say those words, you are conscious of all the others saying the same words at the same time, people who have encouraged you in the past, people who might once have been strangers, but now are part of your support system, part of your family. It dawns on you that here at church you are sitting at table with Jesus, the one you don’t always recognize. It dawns on you that, through the love and caring between you and these other members of the parish, that the presence of the Risen Jesus is still powerful, still able to change your life. Your problems are still your problems, but you know now that you will be able to overcome them, that Jesus loves you just the way you are, that all you have to do is let go and let God handle the details. As we receive communion today, let us take home the courage we need to go back out into our own dark night. We claim the courage needed to face our challenges because we know that we are the presence of Jesus in this world and others are counting on us. We know that no matter how tough our situation might become in the coming week, we always have Jesus, we always have each other. We are not on this journey alone.

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About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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