I grew up in a small town, and small towns are places where there are few unknowns. Everyone knows everyone else, the sense of community is very strong, like nothing else. There’s a lot of good in that, and some challenges as well. If you want to say something bad about someone, you need to be careful: more than likely you’re talking to their cousin, their best friend from school, or their 4th grade Sunday school teacher. It can be tough for a stranger to make themselves at home as well, even if they marry someone there. So many stories are taken for granted, and it’s tough to hear all the stories you need to, to find out who’s related to who, who doesn’t get along with who, and who they go to church with.
As a stranger, you need to hear the stories. You need to know what’s going on.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus have given up. They have gone through the Passion of Christ, and make the reasonable conclusion that the quest is over. The news has reached them that the Tomb was empty, but they didn’t believe it, because they didn’t hang around to double check. They are going home to take up their lives where they left them when Jesus came along. They aren’t expecting anything or anybody strange along the road.
Then a stranger walks up and joins them. He seems a bit dense: he doesn’t know what’s happened over the past few days although it’s obvious that he’s coming from same the place they have. He seems very clueless about what’s going on, like someone who visits Kansas City and doesn’t know there’s barbecue here, or a big ceremony for turning on the Plaza Christmas lights But he’s a good listener, and after the two disciples have filled in the gaps in this guy’s knowledge, he starts filling in some more gaps in their knowledge, paving the way for something. He confirms that he’s a nut when he wants to go on at the end of the day: continuing the journey after dark in that part of the world is like talking a nice walk in a bad neighborhood in the middle of the night. They get him to stay and he breaks bread with them. And when he breaks the bread, they recognize who it is: Jesus. He disappears, and they remember that they felt something they didn’t understand as they walked along the road. All this gets them back on track, they get back on the road to Jerusalem and now they can verify the incredible story they were running away from. Christ has risen from the dead. Seeing Christ alive get them back on track: they can return to their mission with the right attitude.
We are called to see Christ present in the world around us. Most obviously we are called to see him in the Body and Blood we bless, break and share here every week. We are called to see him in the Tabernacle, in the person of the Presider, in the Scripture that are read and sung. It’s a little more difficult to see Christ in the people around us, and still more difficult to see Christ in the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the afflicted, the persecuted. The most difficult place we are called to find Christ is in the face we see in the mirror every morning.
What we come to every week is our road trip, our journey to Emmaus. As we travel the Liturgy, Christ opens the Scripture for us as he did that day and after that He breaks the bread and blesses the wine. Our action is to get back on the road to Jerusalem, to get back into the mission of the Church, to get back to who we are and what we should be doing.
The purpose of our weekly Emmaus journey is to be able to find Christ more easily. We might just want to hide out in our musty rooms, shun all the problems we don’t want to deal with called other people. But Jesus sneaks up on us, talks to us, breaks bread with us, shares himself with us. Jesus calls us to get going, to get on the right road. We’ve already touched on all the unexpected places we can find Christ: in those around us, in the poor and broken, in the needy, in those who have no one to speak for them. To do this we must find Christ in the most difficult place there is: looking out of the mirror at us. Are we able to look at the face and get back on the road to Jerusalem, the road to the person we should be? Does our encounter with Christ reconnect us to each other, reconnect us to our mission?