Between different spiritual direction sessions, meetings, calls, one consistent thing I’ve been hearing a lot is that a lot of people are really struggling with negative and pessimistic thoughts. Which is totally understandable. Today for those of us in the NYC- metro area, its been pretty much 30 days that we’ve been ordered to stay home – people haven’t been able to go to Mass or receive any of the Sacraments; work and school has shut down and people are working remotely – so many things have seemingly grinded to a halt. Unlike when a massive snow storm hits which we can kind of enjoy being forced to shut down for a few days and the opportunity to catch up on things around our homes, crash a bit, this is completely different. The uncertainty around all of this most especially, when or how will it all end has many feeling unnerved. Add that people desire to keep informed and end up watching every minute of every news conference and getting sucked into watching hours of coverage that regurgitates and argues over what we just heard – it’s understandable that people are in a depressed state.
For those of us struggling with these realities, today’s Gospel couldn’t come at a better time. We hear the story about the disciples who encountered the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. It’s one of my favorite Gospel scenes that I probably go back to the most. Especially right now – because we can relate to the two disciples who St Luke describes as “looking downcast.” For them, they have as just good reason (if not more) than we do. Good Friday was just two days earlier. Jesus had been their hope – they had seen Him do amazing things, in Him they had expected the unexpected would be possible. There was no limit to the possibilities and potential that they imagined, since everything so far had been far greater then they could have ever considered or conceived. Good Friday – the betrayals, the denials, the brutal way Jesus tortured and killed in the most gruesome of ways for all the world to see – it shattered them. They were completely unnerved, shocked, disappointed, disgusted, and afraid
So much so – that the Easter news doesn’t register or click for them. That’s what always fascinates me about this passage. As Jesus sidles up to them as they are walking along – and they don’t recognize it’s Him – Jesus casually asks them (I kind of imagine Jesus is smiling to himself as He does so) “what are you talking about – what’s going on?” They immediately recount the horrors, but they add “some women from our group, however, have astounded us, they were at the tomb early in he morning and did not find His body. They came back and reported that they had indded seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive… [others] went to the tomb and found things just as the women described…but him they did not see.”
So they heard the good news. Which is why I find it so important and relatable. Because they confess to Jesus Himself (although they don’t realize its Him yet) that they don’t believe it. Even though the witnesses had been verified by other witnesses -and they had no reason not to believe – they didn’t. We know this because their response to this news was to leave town. They were giving into their fear and their despair. Jesus is blunt, some counselors would argue Jesus is harsh even – “Oh how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” He’s trying to snap them out of the narrative that they’ve let play over and over in their hearts and minds – a narrative that spoke words of fear, of anxiety, of death… making them think they got Jesus, they’re going to get you too…better run for your lives. He’s trying to break those voices they’ve let into their heads and does so by going through the History of God’s goodness to His people -as Luke describes it – from Moses to all the prophets. Jesus literally spends hours (since they were walking at least 6 or 7 miles) reminding them of how God loves His people… how even when the people constantly rebelled, turned away – God never withheld his loving glance on the people He loved into existence. He would keep finding ways, make new attempts to reach out to His people, create a path for them to return to Him.
Having this history recalled is what gets their “hearts burning within them.” This “remembering” causes them to say to Jesus “Stay with us…” and as He does, as they sit down and break the bread – and it’s then that they realize Jesus had never left them… He had been with them through it all – and would continue to stay with them – no longer in the limited existence of a single human life- but outside of time and space of that one day, one location – to the people every age in every land most especially in the Eucharist that they and we continue to share.
For all of us during this time of isolation and spiritual hunger as so many of you aren’t able to receive Jesus’ Body in the Eucharist physically – its understandable that there’s widespread feelings of “being downcast” ourselves. But that you’re here tonight, livestreaming or reading this later is not by accident. The Lord, Jesus Christ risen from the dead is speaking to us to not yield to these defeatist, negative thoughts. Unlike Lazarus, who Jesus raised from thed dead who would eventually die again – when Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered death – death had no hold on him… and in this Eucharist, He is as real and present to us as He was on that road to Emmaus speaking to those two disciples. He is speaking to us today. He wants us to remember what our good God has done for us before… He wants us to take stock of the many blessings we have right now… He wants us to look for ways that we can be a blessing – that we can make the resurrection real – in calling – reaching out to someone… in forgiving someone… in finding creative ways to utilize our time to do something we “never had time to do” -maybe it’s a bible study or learning more about our Catholic Christian faith; maybe it’s creating a habit for daily prayer…
It’s up to each of us not to let the environment or the circumstances around us to define whether we’re down cast or not. If we want our hearts to burn within us, then we need to do what these two have shown us – listen to Jesus – let Him remind us of God’s goodness and abiding presence and then keep acknowledging how he does “stay with us” – in His Sacrament absolutely – but also in His word, in the community of His believers – in the Hearts of those who desire Him to be there.