On the third Sunday of Easter, we hear the Gospel known as the Road to Emmaus. It is well known and deeply cherished. A group of Jesus’ disciples is walking along. They are sad, downcast, dejected. Everything that they believed in and hoped for came to an abrupt end when their leader died on a cross. They saw it happen. They know it was true. They are commiserating with each other.
Out of thin air — actually I don’t like that phrase; given my body type, I prefer “out of fat air” — Jesus comes and walks with them, but they don’t realize who it is. He asks a few questions, shares a few thoughts and they want to spend more time with him. They invite him to stay for dinner. At dinner they share some more stories. Then Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it with them. Their eyes were opened. They recognize him in the breaking of the bread and he vanishes from their sight.
We hear part of their continued conversation. Yes, it was Jesus. Were not our hearts burning when he broke open the scriptures for us? Everything started to make sense. And in the breaking of the bread we recognized him for sure. Not just in the breaking of the bread, they said, but in ourselves who broke and shared the bread with him and with each other. Bread does not break itself. We break it with each other. We recognized him in that sacred bread and also in each other. One even said, “We ought to copyright that phrase “breaking of the bread” because I bet you it’s going to become famous. Songs will have this name. Missals will be called Breaking Bread. Theologians and mystics will write books about breaking bread. When people invite one another to dinner, they’re going to say, “want to come over and break bread together?”
When the disciples realize that it was Jesus who was with them and that he had been raised from the dead, they get up and run out of the house to Jerusalem to share with the other disciples this good news. The encounter with Jesus moves us to share the good news. How could you encounter the Lord and not want to share this encounter with others?
Let’s tell this story some 2,000 years later. Some very close friends are walking in a park. They have their facemasks on and come upon an area where they can sit at appropriate social distance. They take off their facemasks and visit with each other. They are sad and dejected. Life as they had known it is changing and they have no idea where it is all going.
They have friends who are ill and a few who have died from the virus. They do not like living in lockdown. They have grown to hate Zoom. They long for face-to-face contact and even wonder if they will be able to hug people again. They greatly miss going to Mass on Sunday. They promise each other never to look at their smartphones again during the Sunday homily, even if it’s bad!
While they’re sitting there, a stranger comes along and sits down. He asks them what they are talking about and why they look so sad and dejected. They look at him as if he’s nuts and ask him, “Are you the only person on planet Earth that has not heard of the coronavirus? Almost overnight it has spread to 185 countries. It has infected millions of people. Hundreds of thousands have died. There is no vaccine. Scientists and doctors cannot keep up with it. We were told that perhaps injecting disinfectants into the body would help, but we know that won’t work. We don’t know what the future holds for us, for anyone.”
The stranger begins to talk with them. He helps them recall other times in history when there seemed to be no hope, no future, and yet here they are talking. He recalls story after story of how God saved his people over and over again and never abandoned them. He helps them to see that God brings good out of everything. That grace always prevails. That the grace of God always comes through.
And just like that he vanishes from their midst. They continue talking. Yes, he was right. Each one tells stories from their own lives of how the grace of God showed up at a very dark and painful moment. They talk more. One tells a story that he remembers from his grandmother of a famine when the future seemed so bleak. And yet there was a future. They continue: Look at all the signs of kindness and goodness springing up everywhere in the midst of tragedy and darkness. People in Italy gather each night on their balconies to sing to each other. Doctors and nurses and other first responders put their lives at risk to serve the sick and people clap and cheer for them. Priests find creative ways to be present to their people. The neighbor next door brings food to an elderly person. The more they talk they more they realize that God’s grace always prevails.
They ask each other: “When, in human memory, have the people of all nations ever felt themselves so united, so equal, so much less in conflict than at this moment of pain? We have forgotten about building walls. The virus knows no borders. In an instant it has broken down all the barriers and distinctions of race, nation, religion, wealth, education and power. Maybe this solidarity can be an example of how to live once this virus passes.”
We are living in a very difficult moment. Not knowing how and when this will end makes it all the more difficult. Not knowing what life will look like after this pandemic makes us control freaks freak out.
The legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz said, “I don’t know what the future holds. But I know who holds it.”
God is always faithful. Like the disciples that we heard about in Sunday’s Gospel who run to Jerusalem to share the good news, we must do what we can to serve others at this time in whatever ways are appropriate. We must share the good news that God is faithful, even if we have to share it by Zoom. And, by the way, I have it on good word that every hour on Zoom cancels out 10 years in purgatory!
The mercy of God will see us through this pandemic and beyond.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Father Joe Corpora works in the Alliance for Catholic Education and Campus Ministry, and is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy. He has written two books of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of God and Being Mercy: The Path to Being Fully Alive, both published by Corby Books.