The story of the appearance of the Risen Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus is well-known – perhaps too well-known! It’s been used for so many meditations and lessons that you might actually think you’re tired of hearing about it. But you knew eventually I would have to go there!
And the reason I have to “go there” is because this story is nothing short of completely and utterly remarkable. It has so much to say to us as “modern Catholics” that I can’t even think of where to start. (Well, obviously that isn’t really true because I’m about to write about it!) If you haven’t read the story lately, you will find it at Luke 24:13-35.
Of course the most exciting part of the story comes when Jesus breaks bread with the disciples, and in the midst of that Eucharistic event, their eyes are opened and they finally recognize him. It’s a big moment. It’s beautiful! But…then he vanished from their sight! Just at the moment when they finally really saw him. Just at the moment when his words about the Scriptures erupted into an experience of understanding. Just at the moment when they discover he is risen! Just at the moment when they recognize Jesus Christ, fully alive, human and divine, present on the road, present in the breaking of bread, present at their table – risen and present and close enough to reach out and touch! Just at that moment, he vanishes from their sight. (Stay tuned for next week’s topic: “God, why do you have to be so mysterious?!”)
Friends, Jesus has vanished from my sight. So many times. More than I can count. I too have been on the road or in Scripture or at table or at Eucharist and caught a glimpse of the Lord, only to have him slip very quickly from the grasp of my mind and heart. I too have blinked and found him gone. Does the presence of the Risen Lord permeate my life? I pray that is so. But am I always intimately connected with him, close enough to reach out and touch? Do I live in a state of always seeing and recognizing him? No, I do not.
And I am not dismayed by this. In fact, as the years pass I grow ever more content with this natural rhythm of the spiritual life. The disciples had beautiful moments with Jesus. They also had times of unknowing and distance, times of slowness of heart or blurred vision. This experience with the Risen Lord – yes, he vanished from their sight – but they did not fret over it or desperately try to call him back or spend much time suffering over the loss. No, it seems they were quite filled by the experience – brief as it was. They ran with joy to tell the others. But of course you remember the story – their hearts were burning!
Lord, give me eyes to see you and a heart that burns long after you vanish from my sight!