Some years ago a friend greeted me when I was on a train journey. That came as a surprise, because I hadn’t expected to see him there. In fact, although I was sitting next to him I didn’t recognised him. And even when he greeted me, I found it difficult to put a name to his familiar face. My problem was that I didn’t expect him to be on my train, making the same journey as me. My imagination couldn’t make the leap to recognise him in an unexpected situation. I expect most of you have had a similar experience.
That’s something like what happened to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus was the last person they expected to meet. After all, everyone knew that he’d just been crucified and then buried. With His death all the hope they’d placed in Him had been shattered. They were desolate!
When the risen Lord joined them as they sadly talked about Him they didn’t recognise Him, partly because they didn’t expect to see Him. They didn’t realise who it was who explained that the Scriptures foretold that He must suffer and die, and that He would rise from the grave. They only recognise Him at the end of the journey, when the risen Lord, shared a meal with them and broke bread in a familiar way.
Luke recorded this graphic account of the risen Lord’s appearance to help convince us that He did not abandon us when He ascended to heaven. We have two sceptical witnesses who became convinced that the Lord had truly risen. They hastened to share this wonderful news the disciples. That sums up the mission of the Church and of each of us.
This episode is meant to reassure us that Jesus is now with us in new ways. He speaks to our minds and hearts through the Scriptures. As the two disciples recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread, we are reminded that we meet him in the sacramental life of the Church –especially in the Eucharist. Finally, this episode tells us that our crucified and risen Lord accompanies us as we journey through life, just as He did the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But throughout this account of Christ’s resurrection appearance there’s the problem of recognising Him. That requires both God’s gift of faith and also our openness to the unexpected. We need to realise that the Word of God Himself speaks to us personally through the written text of the Scriptures. And when we receive the sacraments we must look beyond the physical appearance of, say, bread, wine, water and words, and make the leap of faith to believe that we meet Jesus Himself, approaching us to help us in our different needs.
Finally, we meet Jesus in the people we encounter in our journey through life. Some may be easy to recognise as being really Christ-like. But it may be much hard to recognise Jesus, as He identifies with the needy, the despised and rejected in society. Today’s Gospel reminds us that we need great sensitivity to appreciate Christ who is already in our midst in so many ways. We can so easily miss Him!