Thursday, April 10, 2008

Were not our hearts burning?


A mother tells a story that many parents can relate to. For year she had prayed that her two sons would return to the faith. Then one Sunday morning in church she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her two sons came in and sat across the aisle from her. Her joy and gratitude overflowed. Afterward, she asked her sons what prompted their return to the faith.

The younger son told the story: One Sunday morning, while vacationing in Colorado, they were driving down a mountain road. It was raining heavily and suddenly they came upon an old man without an umbrella. He was soaked through and through and walked with a noticeable limp. Yet he kept trudging along down the road. The brothers stopped and picked him up. It turned out that the stranger was on his way to Mass at a church three miles down the road. The brothers took him there. Since the rain was coming down so hard, they decided to wait for the stranger to take him home after Mass. It wasn’t long before the two figured they might as well go and wait inside. As the two listened to the reading of scripture and sat through the breaking of the bread, something moved them deeply. The only way they could later explain it was: “It felt so right, like getting home after a long, tiring trip.”

The story of the two brothers and their encounter with the stranger on the Colorado road bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel. The two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways.

It was against this background that they met the stranger on the Emmaus road on Easter Sunday morning. The disciples listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen.

Almost the identical thing happened to the brothers on the Colorado road. There was a time when they followed Jesus closely. They truly believed he was the Son of God, sent by God to redeem the world. Then came stormy days for them; perhaps all their hopes and dreams smashed into a thousand pieces too. Totally disillusioned they too left Jesus and went on their way. It was against this background that they met the stranger on the rainy Sunday morning. He spoke to the brothers about Jesus not by using words but by his simple, dedicated example. As they listened their hearts began to burn within them. Then during the breaking of the bread in the church, they discovered the Jesus they had lost.

For us too, we sometimes have stormy periods in our lives when our faith is smashed or weakened. During those times perhaps we have fallen away from the church and the practice of our faith. But then one day we met someone – a stranger perhaps. And it was through the stranger that we found Jesus again, in the midst of his church, in the breaking of the bread.

And so today’s gospel contains an important message for all of us – especially for those still searching for Jesus, or for those who have lost Jesus. Sometimes we hear people say, “I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus but I don’t believe in the church.” Whenever we hear this we should recall another traveller on another road. We should recall Paul on the road to Damascus, as we hear in Acts, “Suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him ‘Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you Lord?’ he asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you persecute,’ the voice said.”

Paul was confused. He had not persecuted Jesus. He had persecuted only His followers. Then it dawned on him; Jesus and His followers are one. They were like a head and a body. Trying to separate Jesus from His church, the community of His followers, was like trying to separate our own head from our body.

If we were to find the risen Jesus today, it will be the way the disciples found Him on the road to Emmaus. It will be the way the two brothers found Him.

Lord Jesus, look kindly on those who have left you behind for dead in the some unmarked tomb. Come to them as you did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Explain to them the scriptures again. Stir up in them the fires of faith that still smoulder in their hearts. Sit down with them at table.

Show yourself to them again, in the midst of your church in the breaking of the bread.

May God give you peace.

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