Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

The Sabbath—and life as they knew it—was over; it was time to go home. Cleopas and another disciple, perhaps his wife according to some traditions, were leaving Jerusalem with heavy hearts, blind to what had been told to them by the women.

Here comes the Risen Christ, and neither traveler recognizes Him. They think Him to be another traveler, one who is utterly clueless as to the drama that has unfolded in Jerusalem of late. Cleopas tells the stranger about who he believed Jesus to be, a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”; he even seems to indicate that Jesus might even have been the Messiah. Many things, but not the Son of God. He ends by saying that some other disciples saw the empty tomb “but Him they did not see.” We almost want to grin at the irony as Cleopas and his companion are speaking face-to-face with Jesus Himself. Why did they not see Him? Jesus diagnosis the issue immediately: “How slow of heart to believe…”

They believed Jesus was a great prophet: fine. Jesus then leads them through the prophets, all that they wrote regarding Him, helping them to see that what happened on Calvary was foretold long ago, but Cleopas and his friend could not believe it. However it was not until the end of their journey, at table, that the eyes of their hearts were given sight. Perhaps it was the way He held and tore the bread; perhaps it was the prayers He offered. Something connected them back to the Last Supper, which they had either witnessed or been told of, and the memory of that intimate, last experience with Jesus filled their hearts with love for Him; their memory of Him rose from the dead. Before this they could think only of a dead Jesus, but they now dared to believe that He was alive.

The Last Supper, for those who witnessed it or were told of it later, made all the difference in coloring the Cross. Crucifixions were a fairly ordinary occasion; what made Christ’s death unique was that He told His followers beforehand that it would be a sacrifice, a holy act which He was going to undergo willingly. Without this warning, those of His followers who witnessed (very few…) His death or later heard of it would have a lens by which to view it. Jesus’ actions at table in Emmaus awaken their memory of the Supper, and they consider it in light of His sharing on the road, and suddenly their understanding of His death is illuminated in such a way that the possibility of His Resurrection is suddenly a real one. Jesus vanishes: they no longer need to see Him to believe He is present.

Mass is meant to do the same thing for us, to teach us the writings of those who have gone before us in faith, to speak to us in our present state, whatever it might be. In the breaking of the bread Jesus comes to us, but we do not recognize Him. How slow of heart are we to believe! During this Octave of Easter let us strive to open our hearts even more to Christ at the Mass, to ask for His help in believing that He is truly with us, seeing Him wherever—or however—He might appear.

March 30th, 2016