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April 30, 2017

Third Sunday of Easter

The disciples on the road to Emmaus, sad and disillusioned by what happened to their Master, tell the unknown passer-by what they remember of the events that just happened.

It is the same passer-by who asks them: “What are these things you are discussing as you walk along the way?” (Lk 24:17). And he persists: “What?” (Lk 24:19).

Their account of the facts is a story in the past, closed and over, that can no longer produce anything, and that also carried with it, in its failure, all their hopes, their very lives.

There is a discordant element that disciples cannot explain to themselves, which could perhaps suggest that something new has taken place: it seems that the tomb is empty, that the body of this prophet, powerful in words and deeds, is no longer there, that the women have also had a vision of angels. This devastated them, one of them went to the tomb and found that this oddity actually happened; but the fact remains that “him they did not see”, that he is no longer there (Lk 24:22-24).

We cannot say that the account of the two disciples is inexact: there are many elements, and they are all true. It’s true that Jesus had been handed over so that he would be condemned to death; it’s true that He was crucified; it’s true that His tomb is now empty. Everything is true, but something is missing.

What is missing is the key to the story, and what Jesus does with them, after listening to them, is provide them this key.

How?

Simply by retracing the path of Scripture with them, because the key is there.

We do not know what Jesus said to the disciples, which passages He went over again with them to get them to come to a new vision of things. Still, we know that in listening to Him, their hearts were burning, or rather that everything, which before was extinguished within them, slowly began to pulsate again, to come alive.

But what is this key that is capable of reawakening life?

This key is the Paschal Mystery and Jesus finds it in the Scriptures – and teaches the disciples to do likewise – because the Paschal Mystery is inscribed deeply in them, it is the secret soul of the Scriptures: the Paschal Mystery is the very style of the life of God and the Scriptures speak of this (“And He said to them: «O foolish and slow of heart to believe in the words of the prophets! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory?» … He explained to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him” (Lk 24:25-27). A style of mutual self-giving until the end, without reserve; and the amazement at seeing that in this life of mutual giving, life does not die, but remains forever.

Being believers and no longer unbelieving, as Jesus exhorted Thomas in last Sunday’s Gospel (Jn 20:27) involves taking on this key as a guideline for reading history and life: that of Jesus, first, and therefore one’s own and that of others.

When this happens, Jesus can disappear, because now He is made known: the disciples recognize Him in breaking bread, but they can only do so because they learned from the Scriptures the logic of the Paschal Mystery, and now they will be able to recognize Him everywhere. Now they know that all bread broken out of love is eternal life and conquers death. And that there, even if one does not see it, even if it is not obvious, the Lord is present.

In this passage, as in every other episode that narrates the Risen Lord’s appearance to the disciples, we see how the newness of the Paschal Mystery is inscribed within the ordinary life of the disciples on the way. What happens to those who meet the Risen Lord? What does the Paschal Mystery do in our life, when it becomes the key to reading it? At least two important things: the healing of memory – which gives a new look to the things of life – and the possibility of starting the journey again.

The first thing is fundamental to living and being free people: the disciples, in their first telling of the facts of the passion, can only relate the death events. But after they have met the Lord, the memory of these same facts is transformed, and becomes a memory of a death conquered, of a death that has not had the last word.

And this healing is also fundamental for us, again and again wounded by life and by evil: to experience that within those deaths the Lord enters, and so have a new memory of the events of our history; because in those events the Lord has passed.

It is no coincidence that Jesus breaks bread, and that is where the disciples recognize Him. They recognize Him in a familiar gesture, in that gesture which Jesus asked to remember and to do in memory of Him.

The memory then opens up, and no longer remembers only the bad: it is immersed in a greater and truer memory, which is the memory of God, the memory of the presence of Christ, which is always a faithful and friendly presence, also in the time of sorrow.

But the second is equally important: the disillusioned disciples were on the way, yes, but theirs was a straying from the place of salvation, as well as from their community. Tired, they dragged themselves towards a place where forgetting all that happened.

Meeting with the Master puts them back on their way again, no longer tired or disillusioned, but joyful and confident, and takes back them home: where home is understood as their own community, that place where everyone experiences and witnesses meeting the Lord; and the place where each one is confirmed in the faith.

There, too, the two disciples tell, as they told to the unknown traveler; but now their story is an entirely different matter: “Then they recounted what had taken place along the way and how they recognized Him in breaking the bread” (Lk 24:35).

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