3rd Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020

The road to Emmaus story is one of the great and wonderful stories that have come down to us in the scriptures.  For all of the study and reflection that it has prompted, however, it’s interesting to note that biblical scholars and archaeologists have yet to definitively determine precisely where the little town of Emmaus was located.  And maybe that’s just as well.  The way the gospel is written, the road to Emmaus story is less an account of geography than it is a story of every one of us and our own personal journeys of faith.

Let’s look at the gospel again.  The story takes place on the afternoon of the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  Two disciples of Jesus were making the seven-mile trip to the village of Emmaus.  It’s clear that they were invested in the events that had taken place in Jerusalem a few days earlier.  Their world had just been turned upside down.  The one to whom they had given their lives had been put to death as a criminal.  Their words were punctuated by shock, anger and sadness over the great injustice that had befallen their friend and leader, Jesus – along with a sense of uncertainty as they revealed that some from their group have announced that he was alive!  …  If nothing else, they were vulnerable – open to whatever might help them understand all that had happened in their friend’s life – and in their own.

Unexpectedly, the two were joined by a stranger who asked them what they were talking about with such passion.  The stranger then explained – to their astonishment – the meaning of each of the events of the past week.  When they reached the village, the two disciples asked the stranger to remain with them.  And in that gesture of welcome, they came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

I don’t know if any of you have ever read Man’s Search for Meaning, a classic work written by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish prisoner who spent years in Nazi death camps during World War II and live to tell about that experience.

He wrote in that work about the notion of freedom which seemed to be so completely withdrawn from the lives of those who were trapped in the death camps.  When every freedom is taken away from a person – the freedom to move from here to there – which we, in our current situation, can appreciate more than ever before – the freedom to determine what to wear, what to eat, what to do – there is one freedom that can never be taken away and that always remains:  the freedom to choose an attitude.  …  That one freedom, my friends, has the power to make all the difference in our lives, regardless of where we are on our journey.

The two disciples in the Emmaus story – for all of the disparate feelings that they were experiencing – maintained an attitude of openness to something more.  They could have closed their hearts and become bitter, but they didn’t.  It was in their attitude of openness – of being vulnerable to a stranger and ultimately to God – that Jesus began the process of revealing himself to them.

So often, we’re inclined to think that we’re at some sort of disadvantage in the Church today when it comes to encountering the risen Jesus.  Would that we had the opportunity to experience Jesus like his disciples in the earliest days following his resurrection.  The Emmaus story, however, was saved by the early Church to remind us that two of Jesus very own disciples – on the day of the resurrection – experienced him alive in their midst in exactly the same way that we do today.  …  Their attitude – hopefully like ours – was one of vulnerability and openness to God.  … They listened with care to His Word.  …  And then they came to know Jesus in their hearts through the breaking of the bread.  …  They encountered Jesus by doing what we do during this moment of prayer.

Just as importantly, recall that the point of entry for Jesus into the lives of the two disciples came in their selfless attitude of hospitality.  They invited the stranger to stay with them and to share in their food.  The good deed – the reaching out – the act of service – revealed the risen Jesus, who was there all along.

My friends, that moment was no different that our situation today.  We’d all like to once again nurture our faith through our participation in the Eucharist.  And no one would like to have you back, filling our churches, more than me.  Yet, Jesus revealed himself on the very day of his resurrection through something as simple yet profound as an act of selfless love and hospitality.  Don’t believe for a minute that he chosen a different way of revealing himself to you and to me.  The risen Jesus is still – and always has been – very much a part of our lives, particularly during these difficult days and weeks.

10 years ago today, I was ordained and installed as the 10th Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton.  Our local Church has experienced a great deal during the past ten years – incredibly joyful moments and very significant challenges, not unlike the ones that we are embracing these days.  Yet, throughout these years, one thing shines forth for all to see and experience.  As people of faith, we believe that we have been richly blessed by the presence of God among us.  It’s that presence, so obviously celebrated and recognized in your lives, that gives me hope and the determination to continue to walk together with all of you on our journey of faith, in service of God and one another.  …  Thank you for that singular gift.

And so, brothers and sisters, like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, in our desire to encounter the risen Jesus, may ours be an attitude of openness to God – yes, in the celebration of the Eucharist – but also in and through the lives that God gives to us – right now, wherever we find ourselves – lives that reveal the presence of the risen Jesus and lives that have the power to set our hearts afire with God’s love and peace.