Today we get to hear the in-depth account of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35) and, in the process, rediscover how important the Holy Mass is to our protection and ability to serve.
They recognised him at the breaking of breadTwo of the disciples of Jesus were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened. Now as they talked this over, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but something prevented them from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What matters are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped short, their faces downcast.Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ ‘What things?’ he asked. ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth’ they answered ‘who proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free. And this is not all: two whole days have gone by since it all happened; and some women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they did not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing.’Then he said to them, ‘You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them. ‘It is nearly evening’ they said ‘and the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ Then they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.
What is that “something”?
Luke sets the scene – two disciples, walking to a village called Emmaus, talking about all that happened. Jesus came up and joined them. What strikes me is this: “something prevented them from recognising him.”
What or who do you think this something is? Either Jesus wanted to remain “hidden” (kind of like putting on a disguise) or something else was preventing them.
While it could very well be the first explanation, it’s worth pondering how often “something” within us is what prevents us from seeing and recognising Jesus and His movement in our life.
Caught up in our own narrative
All too often, we miss Jesus’ presence because we’re too caught up in our own narrative of life. What happened and why…what should be happening now but isn’t…why things can’t be the way we want them…what might happen in the future…
For the disciples, the narrative was around what they had hoped Jesus would be (and the disappointment that it didn’t work out that way). They were so stuck in their own narrative that they were missing the actual story playing out right in front of them.
So often we do the same thing – we miss out on opportunities to serve, to love, to be ready to respond to Jesus’ prompts. We do this because we’re somewhere else, stuck in some narrative (past, alternative present or future). I cringe thinking of how much kindness I could have spread on so many occasions, but was too busy being somewhere else, caught up in my own narrative.
As we cling to these narratives – the past, an alternative present, or future – we are unable to freely and wholeheartedly cling solely to Jesus.
What is it that we cling to?
This time of lockdown and isolation has revealed to many of us what things, places, activities we cling to. Any sense of loss reveals something we have an attachment for – certainly some greater than others. The more of these we have, the easier it is to get stuck in narratives that revolve around them, and the harder it is – like the two disciples – to recognise Jesus and His movement in our lives.
We are called to cling to Jesus and Him alone. Not our toys, our money, our reputation. Not our mother and father. Not our sister and brother. Not even our spouse and children. Him alone. Why? From Him we gain the ability to love perfectly – which we can then distribute to all those around us…including our mother, father, sister, brother, spouse, children. It’s no longer a love tinged with selfishness and expectation, it’s now His love which is perfect and free. In letting go of these things and clinging to Him, we’re taught that we can have these things back in a far healthier way (for them and us).
I have no doubt that this is why attachments are a focal point for the enemy in spiritual warfare. Our enemy wants nothing more than to create division between us and God – encouraging as many attachments as possible creates more and more distance between us and our God…and also prevents us from truly receiving and spreading His perfect love.
There’s always a way back
Thankfully, Jesus reminds us of two critical counter-measures to use in this battle which He uses to “wake up” the two disciples.
The first is the Word of God. “He explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures” which …”led to their hearts burning within them as he did this“. The more time we spend immersing ourselves in Sacred Scripture, the easier it becomes to recognise Him in our lives. As we read and reflect on what we’re reading, His ways become clearer and the path that we’re called to follow becomes more apparent.
The enemy seeks to create confusion and distraction, using half-truths that may appear good but quickly unravel into a fog of uncertainty. The Word of God does the opposite, especially when taken into prayer. It clarifies and brings focus. We can start to recognise Jesus again.
The breaking of the bread
The second counter-measure to get back to a state where we can recognise and better follow Him is the Eucharist. “…they had recognised him at the breaking of the bread.”
The protection the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, provide us clears away the fog and confusion that the enemy has sown in our minds, helping us to see Christ more clearly and able to follow Him again.
Through this passage that the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to include in his gospel, we are pointed clearly at the importance of the Holy Mass – a daily gathering centred around the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Through the Mass, we “wake up” from our narratives and see Him more clearly.
The frequency in which we come to Him in the Mass is like a continual tuning of our hearts and thoughts so that we can go out into the world with His recognition and in His likeness – and serve.
Forming habits of holiness
In addition to participation in Mass (even if, right now, this must be done from within our homes and experienced spiritually), we need to be on guard against the ways of the enemy. If our realignment with Christ in the Mass is only one hour of our entire week, we’re leaving ourselves far too open to deception, confusion and separation from God (and likely a place where even that one hour is sacrificed for other attachments).
What other habits have you formed (or could you form) that creates a greater frequency of aligning with Jesus? It’s hard for us to expect to shift from this weekly reminder to an always-on state of communion with Jesus (that’s the goal!) – so first focus on what things you can do throughout the week (and throughout the day) that allow that communion to more frequently occur.
If there’s something new you want to incorporate, remember that habits take time to form (my experience is 30 days of consistency is the minimum time required) and you can expect to encounter resistance in the process…but with that resistance always comes greater grace.