By Veronica Lawson, RSM
Extraordinary things can happen if we open ourselves to the presence of a stranger on life’s journey. That seems to be a key element in today’s gospel passage from the well-known and well-loved Emmaus story. Imagine two dejected disciples (Cleopas and possibly his wife) on Easter Day, on the road back from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus, a few kilometres away. On their journey, they encounter Jesus who has been raised. At first, they fail to recognise him. Their sadness at his violent death has blinded them to the significance of the women’s account of the empty tomb. It has blinded them to what is happening before their very eyes.
Jesus engages them in conversation and holds up a metaphorical mirror to their experience of loss and grief. Their hearts “burn” within them as he reveals to them the meaning of his death and resurrection in the light of their sacred scriptures. Yet still they fail to recognise the one whom they have described as “a prophet mighty in deed and word.” They invite him to share a meal with them and their eyes are opened: they recognise him in the blessing and breaking of the bread they share with him. He disappears from their midst. They cannot contain the joy they have experienced in realising that Jesus is alive and once more present to them, though in a new and transforming way.
Cleopas and partner go straight back to Jerusalem to share this good news with the other disciples. Now all the assembled disciples experience powerfully the presence of the risen Jesus in their midst. They too pass over the women’s story. It is the appearance to Peter of the resurrected Jesus that is the ground of their new faith. As the story continues beyond today’s reading, we learn that the male disciples will also share a meal with him and he will open their minds to understand the scriptures. Everything will fall into place. The fear that has paralysed them will fall away. They will not only understand Jesus’ death and resurrection in the light of the scriptures. They will be “clothed with power from on high” to exercise their role as witnesses to this great mystery.
Extraordinary things can happen to those hospitable enough to “break bread” with “strangers” in whom they do not immediately recognise God’s presence. If we open our hearts to those who have sought a welcome on our shores and are now awaiting permanency, we might come to participate more deeply in the joy of the resurrection. Opening our hearts is always a possibility while opening our homes is not in these days of restricted physical contact. My experience at this time is of reverse ministry: a young refugee couple is presently doing my essential shopping and leaving it on the front doorstep. Though “strangers” in our land, they are demonstrating what it means to be “of God”.