Friday, May 2, 2008

Third Sunday of Easter

That very day, the first day of the week,two of Jesus’ disciples were goingto a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.He asked them,“What are you discussing as you walk along?”They stopped, looking downcast.One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalemwho does not know of the thingsthat have taken place there in these days?”And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”They said to him,“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,who was a prophet mighty in deed and wordbefore God and all the people,how our chief priests and rulers both handed him overto a sentence of death and crucified him.But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;and besides all this,it is now the third day since this took place.Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:they were at the tomb early in the morningand did not find his body;they came back and reportedthat they had indeed seen a vision of angelswho announced that he was alive.Then some of those with us went to the tomband found things just as the women had described,but him they did not see.”And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these thingsand enter into his glory?”Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,he interpreted to them what referred to himin all the Scriptures.As they approached the village to which they were going,he gave the impression that he was going on farther.But they urged him, “Stay with us,for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.”So he went in to stay with them.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.Then they said to each other,“Were not our hearts burning within uswhile he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalemwhere they found gathered togetherthe eleven and those with them who were saying,“The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!”Then the two recountedwhat had taken place on the wayand how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.


Happy Easter everyone! I know its been two weeks but today we need to make an effort to place ourselves back on Easter Sunday, and I’m not talking about two Sundays ago, to understand today’s message we have to go all the way back to that very first Easter Sunday.
Let’s try to imagine ourselves walking along towards Emmaus, in the company of these two disciples. The one thing we can say about them is that they are not Apostles, they are disciples of Jesus in the sense that they are just some of the regular folks that walked and listened to His teachings. We get from the text that they are part of the group of people which thought that when Jesus arrived to Jerusalem He was going to defeat the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel. To their surprise, just two days ago, they witnessed the whole city turn against Him. Against all their hopes and dreams they saw Jesus scourged, nailed to a cross and finally watch Him die a horrible death. So we can imagine that for the last two days these two disciples had been in a state of shock, confusion and fear. To top all that, this morning, just a few hours ago, some women in their group came relating an incredible story: Jesus body was gone from the tomb and angels had announced to then that He had risen from the dead.
I don’t know about you but when I put all these facts together it seems to me that these two disciples are not “just” in the way to Emmaus, but in fact they are escaping from Jerusalem. They had witnesses all of these events and said to themselves “This is too much to handle, I’m going home!”
So as we walk with these two confused, dismayed, hurt, disappointed and scared disciples, leaving Jerusalem in haste, here comes a stranger who asks “are you guys OK?” and they just let him have it! Just listen to their answer: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what has happened in the last few days? About Jesus the Nazarene who was a prophet… We had been following him and we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel” but the authorities crucified him!
Of course we know the stranger is Jesus… now… we would expect for our Lord to say: “Do not be afraid guys… It’s me… I’m back”
But here the most amazing thing happens! What does he do? He takes them to Mass! Yes my brothers and sisters what we see here is the celebration of the mass as it was meant to be celebrated!
Just listen to what the reading says: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” What do we do every Sunday? We read scripture and interpret it in the Homily! And then the story tells that when they reached the city and saw that He was leaving them, what did they do? They asked Him for something! They said, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” You can almost hear the congregation say “Lord hear our prayer”. And what happens next? They give Jesus the place of Honor at their table. The Gospel says that “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” I do not know you but this sounds very familiar to me! And finally, after they realized that this was Jesus, what did they do? They went in peace! All their hurts and fears were gone and they returned to Jerusalem the very place they were escaping from!
Now you might be thinking “boy the deacon is really grasping for straws today” but think about it. In 2008, when we say the word “mass” we think of altar servers, choir music and liturgical vestments, people standing up, people kneeling… but remember were we are in today’s Gospel… just two days ago Jesus was crucified! What we are witnessing is the mass reduced to its most basic elements: Jesus presiding, scripture being open to us, people in need asking Jesus not to leave them, hearts burning, bread being broken and shared, and the realization that there is no reason to be afraid anymore because He has risen indeed! These are the essential parts of the mass 2000 years ago and are the essential elements of the mass today!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying than the choir and the vestments, the ushers and the music are not important, they are because they enrich our sense of worship, but none of these things are essential. What is essential is what the gospel is showing us.
That we bring our fears and hurts with us to the mass and speak them openly to God, like these two disciples did to Jesus, that we are willing to listen to our Lord as He opens the scriptures us, that we ask him “Lord do not leave us because there is a lot of darkness out there”, that when we gather around the altar we realize: He is the one at the head of the table, He is the one making the offering of the gifts, the blessing and the sacrifice, that he breaks the bread for us, and send us in peace to spread his word.
Now as a deacon I talk to a lot of people and I have heard a lot of Catholics complain about been bored at mass (Even some of my CCD students have said this to me… I will not name names but you know how you are). I believe that the real reason why some people find the mass boring is because they concentrate in what they consider “Important” the quality of the music, the beauty of the sanctuary, but they forget the essentials. They come to church to be spectators, to be entertained, but the mass has no entertainment value! The mass is an encounter on a dusty road between confused and scared travelers and a loving God willing to give us strength for the journey.
I assure you my brothers and sisters, if we see the mass in this way and concentrate on the essentials, our hearts will burn to, and we too will recognize Jesus on the breaking of the bread. We will not only want to come to mass every Sunday but every day of our lives.
Now there is message to remember not just two weeks after Easter but for the rest of our lives.