The appeal of the Emmaus story is that it talks about where most of us live. There are no revelations, no great Saints, no exotic places, or people. The Emmaus story is about ordinary everyday despair and Monday-morning drudgery. It is about bumping into a stranger, about sitting down at a table, and about sharing a meal. It is about a couple of unknown followers of Jesus who are walking along a dusty road. Their conversation is full of despair, discouragement, and disappointment. Life is a burden and does not live up to its promises.
Then they meet a stranger. He asks them about their conversation and they recite their woes. In many ways, their conversation could be ours: the everyday stuff, the kids, the economy, world crisis’ all around us like the COVID 19 pandemic, the war, the price of gas or toilet paper, school, job and so on. These are the threads of the daily fabric of our lives. Then the two men go deeper, they say we were hoping for (hoping for what?) for answers to their questions. The same thing we all hope for as we move through life…where is God? Does my life count? Does anything make sense?
Why am I so sick? Why this accident or death of a loved one? Why don’t I feel that God is with me? I could put up with anything if I could feel the presence of God; if I only knew that He cared and heard prayers. The Emmaus story picks up on the lives of all of us; we are all on the road of life. Some just beginning their journey while some are in the middle and others near the end. Along the way there are times of joy and times of sadness. We win a few and lose a few. We enjoy the company of family and friends. We despair when bad people win and the good suffer and, like those disciples, we say we were hoping for a God of justice and compassion to make sense of it all.
Then suddenly into this mess comes God, the stranger with the holes in His hands who shares food and Himself. That is the point of the story-God is here. He penetrates our everyday life, but we do not always know it. Just as those two disciples, going into Emmaus finally recognized the risen Christ, not in some fabulous Technicolor explosion, but in the simple breaking of the bread…Eucharist moment. They remind us that God is in our lives, although we do not see Him most of the time.
The Emmaus story invites us to see God’s love everywhere. Easter moments abound. Let me share with you a true story. A man told me about his son who was in his thirties who was confined to a nursing home. The son had been injured in a car accident several years before and was in a permanent comatose state. The man and his wife would visit at first every day, then twice a week and as the year passed just once a week. “Only because it is our duty as parents.” The man told me “we had stopped loving him.” He said, “Love was reciprocal relationships, giving and receiving and our son could not receive, our son could not give. We went to see him, but as the years dragged on, we stopped loving him.”
A whole wall of the young man’s room was glass so that he could be seen at all times from the nursing station. One Sunday as the parents arrived they were surprised to see a stranger by his bed. The stranger was a Eucharistic Minister from the local Parish who came every Sunday. But the parents usually visited on a weekday. The Father said, “As we waited outside the room we saw the visitor talking to our son as if they were engaged in a conversation-as if my son could appreciate a conversation.”
Then the man took out the Bible and read. By this time, we were in the room and he read the gospel of the day, the road to Emmaus. I thought as he was reading on, “My son cannot hear or appreciate the reading.” Then he prayed a prayer as if my son could appreciate a prayer. Then he continued to give him Holy Communion as if my son could appreciate what he was receiving. Apparently, he did not know my son’s condition. Then as if God had hit me over the head, the Eucharistic Minister does know; but he sees my son differently. Not simply through medical or clinical eyes, but through the eyes of faith.
“He treats my son the way he should be treated, as a Child of God.” Then I saw the connection, this Eucharistic Minister was the stranger on the road to Emmaus revealing the presence of God in that hospital room. A God who loves us deliriously, a God who is in our lives and cares about us. However, sometimes it is a matter of practice to be able to discern Him.
I guess that is one good reason why we come to church. To recover our sense of vision, to celebrate the God we have bumped into all week without knowing it. To handle the word and the bread and see this very congregation with the realization that such common everyday stuff harbors the very presence of God.