April 26, 2020
Christ the King
Father James Bonke
I want to thank Father Todd for letting me preach this homily today. I am grateful because the gospel we just heard, the story of the disciples going to Emmaus on the first Easter night, is my favorite. It is my favorite because I think it gives us a synopsis of the Christian life. I’ve even asked that it be used at my funeral Mass. So if you’re around then, don’t be surprised. But I’m happy to be able to share some of my own thoughts now so that I don’t have to wait until then!
Reflecting on this beautiful and rich gospel account, I see three parts or scenes if you will. The first is that the disciples are on a journey. They had witnessed, or at least had heard about what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem, and they were dismayed, not knowing what to make of it all, for the one in whom they had put so much hope had been taken from them in such a cruel way. They no doubt felt abandoned and hopeless. Yet, in their grief and sadness Jesus was present with them, walking along beside them on the road. But they were blinded by their own thoughts and feelings and were not able to recognize his presence.
In these unusual and uncertain days that we are living in, these days of isolation and loneliness brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps we too have felt abandoned, that Jesus has left us feeling hopeless in this time when we most need him. Perhaps the sight of the empty tomb on Easter remains with us as we struggle to understand the suffering that we personally, and our nation and world are experiencing. Yet, faith teaches us that Jesus, because he rose from the dead is always present to us, that he never leaves us abandoned and alone. Our life, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus is always a journey, a journey of faith leading us to see God present and alive in our midst, especially in troubling and difficult times.
I urge you to read the amazing stories of three healthcare workers in this week’s Criterion, of how God was with them in caring for the sick. It is through folks like them and other “essential” workers that God is with us too. I personally know of one family who has suffered the death of a loved one from the virus. They acknowledge that faith in God sustained them in their grief.
The second scene, perhaps the central scene in the gospel story, takes place in the house at Emmaus, with Jesus seated at table with the two disciples. The words are familiar to us – he took bread, said the blessing, and gave it to them. Obviously, this scene reflects the Eucharist, an action and words that we know well. But I think it is important that we look at the context, that it is in the context of a meal, just as was the Last Supper in which Jesus took the bread and wine and changed them into his body and blood. After reflecting on all that had been written and spoken about him – thus, the liturgy of the Word, Jesus then revealed himself truly present by sharing with the disciples the bread, the bread of life, his own body and blood.
But I believe there is more to it than that. Just as at the Last Supper, Jesus sits at the table with others, a sign of community. Pope Francis reflected on this recently in a homily at a daily Mass during Easter week. He said that this is what constitutes the Church, the sharing of bread, the sacrament, given and shared for us in community. He said, “The Church, the sacraments, the people of God, are concrete.” I think that is one of the things that has made these days so difficult for so many – the inability to be present with the community and to share in the gift of the Eucharist. We priests are grateful to be able to do what we are doing, but the absence of the community of the faithful is as difficult for us as it is for you. What is the mantra we have heard so often in these days: “We are in this together.” How true, for society and the Church!
The third scene finds the disciples hurrying back to Jerusalem to share their good news with the others. They couldn’t keep it to themselves; they had to share what had happened. Thus, the disciples became evangelizers, announcing the good news of how Jesus had revealed himself to them, especially in the breaking of bread. This was the sign that revealed his real and true presence with them. So it is that Jesus makes himself known to us, in both the Word that is proclaimed as well as in the sacrament of his body and blood. Like the Emmaus disciples, we too are sent forth to proclaim good news, to witness by our lives that Jesus is present with us, today and always, even in difficult and uncertain times. For this we give thanks. And may we soon be able to return to celebrating together, as the Church that Jesus intended us to be!