Thursday, April 27, 2017

THE TWO TABLES


THE TWO TABLES
April 30th, 2017: Third Sunday of Easter, Year A.  Luke 24:13-35.
AIM: To help the hearers appreciate God’s presence in his word.  
          This best known of all the resurrection stories, which we have just heard in the gospel, is also one of the most loved. Three elements of the story explain its appeal. First, it has an element of suspense: we know in advance the identity of the story’s central figure and are eager to see when the other people in the story will discover what we already know. Second, we can identify with the two friends of Jesus. They are not leaders, like Peter or Paul, but ordinary disciples like ourselves. Finally, the story appeals because it shows Jesus coming to his friends in the two ways he has always come: through word and sacrament. This aspect is worth pursuing further.
          After Jesus’ disappearance, his two friends recall that their hearts had been “burning within us while he spoke to us ... and opened the Scriptures to us.” Jesus could make people feel that God’s word was addressed personally to them. More than once the gospels record that “he spoke with authority,” and not like other religious teachers.  (Mt. 7:29 and parallels.)
          When you read God’s word, or hear it read in church, do you ever feel that the words are addressed personally to you? To do so, you must learn to listen. You must become still, opening your heart and mind to what the Lord wants to say to you. That takes time. How good to see people coming early to Mass, so that they have time to become quiet, prepared to listen to God’s word with open hearts and open minds. That is something people with children are seldom able to do. Once we begin to appreciate that Jesus comes to us through his word, we will be less apt simply to rattle off prayers mechanically. We shall be more aware that the words we speak to God in prayer mean something. Then, starting with the most familiar prayers like the Our Father and Hail Mary, we’ll pray them more slowly, more reverently.  
          Though the two friends of Jesus in today’s gospel feel their hearts burning within them as they listen to the Lord’s words, they recognize him only “in the breaking of the bread.” That is the earliest name for the Eucharist. But Jesus does not linger. At once he is gone. Jesus had not been brought back to his old life. That ended on Calvary. Jesus was raised to a new life, beyond death: a higher mode of existence no longer limited by the physical laws which govern life before death. In his book Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict, now retired, explains this by writing: “[Jesus’] presence is entirely physical, yet he is not bound by physical laws, the laws of space and time. ... He is the same embodied man, and he is the new man, having entered upon a different manner of existence” (p. 266, emphasis supplied).
          Jesus’ swift disappearance shows also that he did not come to these friends of his so that they could luxuriate in a great spiritual experience. He came to empower them to carry the good news of his resurrection to others. Under the influence of this unexpected and wonderful encounter they forget their weariness and the late hour, and return at once to Jerusalem with their unbelievably good news. Before recognizing Jesus, they had pressed him to stay with them, because evening was coming on. They had with them Him who is the light of the world. Had he left, it would have been dark indeed.
          Is your life dark? If so, perhaps it is because you are not journeying with Jesus Christ. One day you will come to the evening of life’s journey. Happy then if Jesus is with you, so that you can press him to stay: “when the shadows lengthen, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done” (Newman). Then he will stay with you, to take you to the place he has gone ahead to prepare for you (cf. John 14:2). 
          But that great encounter is still in the future. Here and now, if you wish to journey with Jesus Christ (and your presence here shows that, deep in your heart, you do), you must encounter him in the same two ways as those friends of Jesus did at Emmaus: through his word, and in the breaking of the bread – which is the Mass.   
          Let me conclude with some verses written as a meditation on this beautiful story of the appearance of the risen Lord to the two disciples at Emmaus. They are by Fr. Ralph Wright, a monk of our own St. Louis Abbey on Mason Road.

Sing of one who walks beside us / And this day is living still,
One who now is closer to us / Than the thought our hearts distill,
 
One who once upon a hilltop / Raised against the power of sin,
Died in love as his own creatures / Crucified their God and King.
 
Strangers we have walked beside him / The long journey of the day,
And have told him of the darkness / That has swept our hope away.
He has offered words of comfort, / Words of energy and light,
And our hearts have blazed within us / As he saved us from the night.
 
Stay with us, dear Lord, and raise us / Once again the night is near.
Dine with us and share your wisdom. / Free our hearts from every fear.
In the calm of each new evening, / In the freshness of each dawn,
If you hold us fast in friendship / We will never be alone.