Opening the Word: Renewed hearts

The disciples on the road to Emmaus speak among themselves a homily of hopelessness, a sermon of despair.

In the midst of this darkness, Jesus dwells among them “but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Lk. 24:16). They could not direct their attention to the Risen Lord, because they are distracted by their own despondent preaching.

But Jesus interrupts. He asks a question, and the disciples cannot help but respond in a gloomy tone. The Messiah, the one who they thought was the savior of the world, is dead. The story they thought they understood is nothing more than a missing body in a tomb.

The Word made flesh then gives them the new story they need: “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:25).

Jesus replaces despair with hope. He shows them the meaning of the Scriptures. He preaches a homily that reminds them that God cannot be held by “the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). He proclaims a story hidden from the foundation of the world, “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt. 1:19) that reveals the depths of divine love, the glory promised to humanity now that Christ is risen from the dead.

From this new story, hope is born in the hearts of the forlorn disciples. They want to hear more from this traveler on the road: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over” (Lk 24:29). Jesus stays (meinai) with them, remains with them, abides with them. Meinai is the very same word that is used in Luke 19:5, when Jesus “stays” at the house of Zacchaeus, inviting the chief tax collector into a new story himself.

When Jesus dwells in our homes, a marvelous renewal takes place. Salvation occurs when Jesus stays with us, renewing our forlorn hearts.

And Jesus does dwell with these once desolate disciples in an intimate way: “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (Lk 24:31).

The opening of their eyes is complete for the disciples. In sharing this meal, in repeating the action of the Last Supper, they recognize Jesus for who he is. He is the Messiah of God, who manifested the fullness of his power upon the cross. He is the Risen Lord.

In this moment of manifestation, the disciples encounter total love: “Were not our hurts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Lk 24:32).

Such total love is not theirs alone. It is meant to be shared, and thus they run to the apostles in Jerusalem to tell them the good news.

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The disciples on the road to Emmaus offer to us a pattern for how to celebrate the season of Easter.

We too need a new story, a new way of understanding the world revealed in Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord.

We too need our hearts kindled through celebrating the Eucharist together. We must let our eyes be opened to the presence of Christ, who comes in our midst.

And we too must run forth to the world to proclaim the good news that death has met its match.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.