On the road to Emmaus

Deacon John McMullen

By Deacon John McMullen


“We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Easter, we hear Luke’s account of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24.13-35). Two disciples of Jesus are devastated by His crucifixion and death and are walking in grief. We can understand their grief. The disciples’ entire world had come crashing down. It began with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – only to end tragically on a bloody Roman cross on a dark afternoon.

All the grief, sorrow and disbelief of the dejected disciples weighed heavy upon their hearts. But on the third day, there was a report that his tomb was empty. Now in confusion, these two disciples walk to the village of Emmaus where a stranger joins them on the road.

Imagine the surprise when the two disciples meet this man who asks them what they are discussing as they walk along. What rock did he crawl out from behind?!  They were so downcast that they could not even recognize that their traveling companion was the Risen Jesus, for He was the last person they expected to see alive!

The two disciples stopped and they share their story. They end by saying: “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Through their story, we hear them say, Jesus is dead. We saw him die on a Cross. That’s it. We had hoped; we had believed; but now, it’s all over.

Note how Jesus drew near to the two, and He allowed their grief to be real; he allowed them to voice their sorrow and share it with him.

Aren’t there days when our vision of Christ is so blurred that we barely feel like believing, let alone going to church, due to life’s sorrows and our day-to-day burdens?  We may feel all alone, even abandoned; but Christ is with us in our pain and sorrow.

The stranger – the risen Jesus – begins to speak and open the scriptures to the disciples. Jesus asks, “Did you not know that the Messiah must suffer and die?”  

Yes, we too will suffer. Even the Church herself must suffer and die. For it is through our suffering and powerlessness that we come to recognize our total dependence upon God. And whatever challenges or struggles we face in life, the Resurrection of Christ has the power to move us forward in hope!

Likewise, we are easily distracted from moments of grace like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. We can often focus on the bad and obsess with the negative. We can have our eyes cast down and fail to see the radiance of new life. We can forget our blessings or easily discount the gift of Christ’s presence in our neighbors – even loved ones.

The disciples were downcast with grief and sorrow, yet their discipleship allowed them to have an openness of heart. They offer hospitality to the stranger: “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”

And it is in this simple gesture of the disciples to a stranger 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. Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’ So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem […] and the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24.30-35).

It is amazing what can take place as we gather at table to share a meal – indeed, when we take the time to nourish one another, and accompany others in life and faith. Eyes are opened, hearts are converted, and Jesus is revealed!

Pray that, as we accompany one another in our griefs and sorrows, we also share in the hopes and joys of the Risen Christ. May we become burning witnesses to the Resurrection of Christ and His Eucharistic presence!

Deacon John serves at Evansville’s Annunciation Parish.