This rendering of the disciples' encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is from The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments books collection published in 1885, Stuttgart-Germany. Drawing by Gustave Dore, Shutterstock
This rendering of the disciples' encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is from The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments books collection published in 1885, Stuttgart-Germany. Drawing by Gustave Dore, Shutterstock
Gospel Reflection for April 26, 2020, Third Sunday of Easter

We can wonder how it is that two of Jesus’ disciples managed to walk with him for several miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus and not recognize him. Indeed, it is interesting how often after the Resurrection the different Gospel writers note that the disciples – even those closest to Jesus – were uncertain that it was him.

On one hand there is the experience of expectations. I am sure that all of us have had that moment when we see someone completely out of the usual environment and are uncertain as to who it is. I have even missed friends when I have seen them in places where I do not expect to see them. The disciples headed to Emmaus were not looking for Jesus. They knew that Jesus had died, and even as they had heard reports that the tomb was empty and that he had appeared to the apostles, they didn’t expect him to walk with them along the road. Even as he spoke to them and opened the Scriptures to them, they were not paying sufficient attention to realize who he was.

It took the moment of breaking bread – the sharing of the Eucharist – before their eyes were sufficiently opened to recognize Jesus. By then, though, it was too late. Jesus was gone from their sight. While they learned much from him as he spoke with them, they may have missed much more than they heard.

In the hectic pace of life, and most certainly the stresses we have experienced over the past month, it is easy to miss opportunities for encounter. We are distracted by technology, preoccupied with other things on our minds, or just so disengaged that we miss the opportunity for presence right in front of us.

We treat God even worse than that. Unless we “need” something, we are prone to walk along the path of life and miss the presence of God who walks with us. We don’t think often about being in the presence of God, hence we are often inauthentic in our experience of prayer or reading Scripture or other spiritual books. Then, all too often, we are so preoccupied with what we want, what we expect and what we need, that we miss the opportunities that the Lord is giving to us in prayer.

Unfortunately, with so many of us not understanding the belief in transubstantiation and the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, even if we come to share in the meal, we do not fully appreciate or experience Christ with us. Sadly, and more of us than not, do not walk with Jesus far enough to have the opportunity to have the meal to begin with – we just excuse ourselves from Mass and go about our business.

Now, when most of us are deprived of that walk with Jesus as we are unable to attend Mass “live” and instead may participate in Mass via the internet, we are more attentive and more focused. Perhaps it is the familiarity with screens and video interaction or, perhaps it is the novelty of “attending” Mass at home. The challenge is still being adequately disposed to attentively listen to the Word and to receive a spiritual communion.

Now, unable to partake of the Eucharist, we long for this union with Christ.

The disciples, as they walked that five-mile stretch from Jerusalem to Emmaus, desired to walk with and to share in the breaking of the bread with the Lord and yet failed completely to recognize that he was with them. We, who have the benefit of knowing that Jesu is indeed with us in the Word and in the Bread of Life, fail to recognize him. 

We are called to recognize Jesus as he walks with us, as we encounter him along the journey of life, in our encounters with each other, as we read the Bible and, most certainly, as we share in the Eucharist.

When, at last, we are able to return to the worship of the Lord at Sunday Mass, let us do so more attentively, reverently, and more aware that the Lord is truly in our midst as we break the bread.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.