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Nostalgia and Longing for God… Cleophas and his companion on the Road to Emmaus

April 11, 2007
Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus
Pounding hearts, wounded hearts and burning hearts… the image of the human heart permeates the Gospel for Wednesday in the Octave of Easter. There is no better story to illustrate the heart than Luke’s account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus on Resurrection evening [24:13-35]. Today’s Gospel provides us with a good opportunity to reflect on our Easter faith, and to realize once again that believing is not a matter of the mind, but a matter of the heart. It will only be through our pounding hearts and burning hearts that we will come to believe. What we “believe” is what we “give our heart to”. The Emmaus story teaches us that the Resurrection is not a head trip, but a heart trip.When we meet the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is evening, and the glow of that first Easter day has begun to fade. Resurrection at this point is nothing more than a rumor or a tale. Buried beneath their verbal exchange lies a deep yearning and holy hunger. Intimately intertwined with their skepticism is their hope, and their need for God to be alive, vibrant and present. But the baggage of their doubt impedes the fervor of their faith. And so they fail to recognize Jesus. Without being aware of what they are really saying along the road, the two disciples profess many of the central elements of the creed of the Christian faith but they remain blind to the necessity of the Messianic suffering predicted in the Scriptures.
The stranger on the road to Emmaus takes the skepticism and curiosity of the disciples and weaves them into the fabric of the Scripture. Jesus challenges them to reinterpret the events of the past days in light of the Scriptures and they share a meal together. After breaking the bread with them, he disappears and finally their eyes are opened. This meeting of the “tradition” with the “encounter” of Jesus in the flesh kindled a fire in the hearts of those who traveled with him. Finally in the intimacy of the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened and they recognized the Risen One in their midst. Understanding the Resurrection implies a two-fold process of knowing the message of the Scriptures and experiencing the one about whom they all speak: Jesus the Lord, through the breaking and sharing of bread with the community of believers.
Road to Emmaus, American 18th CenturyIt may not always be conscious and clear, but in the human heart there is a deep nostalgia for God. Nostalgia and longing are matters of the human heart. The two on the road to Emmaus thirsted for the living water that only the Risen One could give. All along the road their eyes are prevented from seeing Jesus. Their eyes longed to see beyond the scales of sorrow and sadness and understand that it was truly the Lord. But they finally recognize him in sharing the Word and breaking the bread. Emmaus places some important questions before us: How fleshy is Jesus in our community? Are our own hearts gradually on fire within us when the Scriptures are opened to us? And how often do we recognize the stranger as the living Christ in our midst?
During my first visit to Taizé years ago, I heard this mediation shared by the late Brother Roger Schutz and some brothers in the community. It has remained with me ever since. I share it with you today:
“We are once again pilgrims on the road to Emmaus… Our heads are bowed as we meet the Stranger who draws near and comes with us. As evening comes, we strain to make out His face while he talks to us, to our hearts. In interpreting the Book of Life, He takes our broken hopes and kindles them into fire: the way becomes lighter as, drawing the embers together, we learn to fan the flame. If we invite Him this evening, He will sit down and together we shall share the meal. And then all those who no longer believed will see and the hour of Recognition will come. He will break the bread of tears at the table of the poor and each will receive manna to their fill. We shall return to Jerusalem to proclaim aloud what He has whispered in our ear. And no doubt we shall find brothers and sisters there who will greet us with the words: "We, too have met Him!" For we know: the mercy of God has come to visit the land of the living!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network
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