Fr John preaches on “The road to Emmaus”

April 27th 2020

Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24: 13-35

At the very end of John’s Gospel there are these intriguing words: 

“But there are also many other things, which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

So there might have been, and I strongly suspect there were, numerous post-Resurrection appearances by Christ that have not been written down for posterity.  In this case, the evangelists would presumably have had to decide which events to include in their Gospels. And they would presumably have chosen those events that they felt were of particular importance to future generations, to hear and to reflect upon. 

When I read the beautiful story of Cleopas and his companion on their way to Emmaus being joined, unbeknownst to them, by the Risen Christ, I feel that the evangelist Luke is doing many things at once. He is, for a start, recording an incident in the lives of two people, one of whom is named. But in recounting this story, Luke is also allowing Jesus to instruct us readers of the scriptures on how to understand them correctly. 

“And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”

So we are to read the scriptures in the light of our knowledge of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus– so that even the events of what we call the Old Testament can be seen as leading up to, and preparing the way for, the definitive revelation of God in Jesus Christ. 

So the mysterious companion whom we know to be Jesus goes a lot further than simply explaining some troubling recent events involving Jesus and an empty tomb. He explains the whole story of the Chosen People in the light of Christ. Looking back, events in the life of Moses and the prophets can be seen in relation to Christ, even though this perspective on things was not available at the time. 

But a question I’d like to ask is: why stop at the Old Testament and the recent events in Jerusalem? Surely, the take-home message is that all history ought to be understood in relation to what is revealed in Christ. 

Indeed, the scriptures themselves go forward in time, well beyond the day on which Cleopas and companion walked to Emmaus. So, for example, we read in the Acts of the Apostles about the life of the early Church, a time period of over 30 years. And then the scriptures fast forward and bring us to the end of time and the coming down of the New Jerusalem, presumably still a long way off in the future. And all this is seen in the light of Christ. 

And then there is the great swathe of time in between the Acts of the Apostles and the coming of the New Jerusalem, the period we are living in right now. And so, no surprise, we are to read the story of this long period – with its many ups and downs to put it mildly – in the light of Christ. And since this period contains our lives, we are to understand our lives too through the lens of our Christian faith. 

The famous philosopher Soren Kierkeegaard famously wrote that life can only be understood backwards but can only be lived forwards. Just as Cleopas and companion had to look back on events in order to understand them, so too we need to do the same if we are to understand our lives in the light of Christ. And in this we might encounter events in our lives that did not make much sense at the time, but when seen within the bigger context of our lives, we may hopefully be able to discern something of the work of Christ in it all. 

And part of the beauty of this is that there might be many things in our lives that do not look like much in the eyes of others, but seen in the light of Christ, they can take on a new importance and value and profundity. When we see things in the light of Christ, we not only see them from a bigger perspective, but a bigger perspective that is saturated with mercy and tender love, and that is capable of bringing to light whatever good might be present in what might otherwise be negative. 

Which leads me onto something I have not yet mentioned, but that is crucial to understanding what today’s Gospel is about. So far I have mentioned about Cleopas and companion coming to understand things in the light of Christ. But simply to put it like this is to risk focusing too much on the cerebral – as if it’s most fundamentally about sorting out the facts in our heads and then giving a correct interpretation of them.

But it is a lot more than just this. 

You see, the story of Cleopas and companion on their way to Emmaus is not only about two people being brought to the correct interpretation of recent and historical events: it is about two people who have been accompanied on the way by Christ, who have come to know Christ personally by sharing his company, and who have listened to his word and opened their hearts to him, even when they did not even realise that it was Christ who was with them. In other words, it is not only about the stuff going on in our heads, in a narrow sense of this; it is about coming to understand through relationship, through friendship, through spending time with the Lord, and listening to him:

 “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”

And it is also about being accompanied by the Lord, even when we do not recognise his presence. And, looking back on our lives, we might be able to discern that Christ was accompanying us all along, but, like Cleopas and companion, we did not spot it at the time. 

Many of you will have doubtless heard the famous Christian poem of the footprints in the sand. It’s perhaps a little over-familiar, but it nonetheless says something important and relevant to today’s Gospel reading: 

“One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

Of course, it’s by no means only Cleopas and companion who have found themselves puzzled by strange events in their lives. I suspect many of us are scratching our heads right now about our current situation with its lockdowns and the like. And who can blame us? 

So today’s Gospel passage seems to be very suitable for trying to make some sense of puzzling times like our present situation. It might be some way off before when we can begin to make sense of it all. But today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on all things through the lens of faith in Christ; and it reassures us that Christ is with us right now, accompanying us in our puzzlement and frustration and worry. So let us pray that our minds might be enlightened and that we may recognise his comforting presence with us. 

“My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.” 


Fr John preaches on “The road to Emmaus”

Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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