Wednesday 3 April 2024

Go back to Jerusalem

The gospel readings at Mass during the Easter Octave give us the Resurrection appearances of Christ after Easter: to the two women, to Mary Magdalene, to the Eleven apostles, to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Each is given to prove that he is truly risen, truly alive — he talks with them, eats with them, allows them to touch him. Each one also tells us how the encounter with the Risen Lord changed people and transformed his disciples. And each account shows us something about what the resurrection of the Lord should bring about in us too.

This is seen especially in today’s Gospel, the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus. The two disciples were burdened by sadness and a loss of hope. We are told that their faces were downcast. In talking to the stranger, the Lord Jesus they were not able to recognise, they used the past tense: ‘We had hoped’. We had hoped that Christ would be like this, that he would do that, that God would act in this way. But now Christ was dead and their hopes were dashed. They were walking away from Jerusalem, the city of death and darkness, as they had come to experience it. But in reality, Jerusalem was the city where life had triumphed over death, light over dark, and it would be the city where the risen Lord would pour out his Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Jerusalem would be the city from which the Gospel would begin to be preached to the whole world.

The Lord walked and talked with them, even though they were heading in the wrong direction. He did so to help them to see that there was more to Jerusalem and more to the story of Jesus than they had ever realised. His presence with them transformed their sorrow into joy and their despair into hope and, as a result, they turned around and went back to Jerusalem. There they shared their encounter with the Lord with the other disciples and heard from them the story of theirs. And that was when the story of the Church begins.

We often find ourselves going in the wrong direction, away from Jesus and away from his Church, burdened by sadness and hopelessness, dejection, frustration and disappointment. But the Lord always walks with us as he walked with Cleopas and his friend. He is always with us, inviting us to share the story of our own lives with him — our fears, hopes, anxieties and needs. If we share that story with him, with everything that is in it, and everything that we think and feel, and spend time talking to him and listening to him, then he will show us what our story really is. He will point out to us where he is in that story, and what is its true meaning. If we open our hearts to his presence, he will reveal himself to us. And we will be transformed as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were transformed. Our sadness will turn to joy, our despair to hope, and we will begin to face again in the right direction. We will go back to Jerusalem, recognising that the places we try to get away from because we see them as places of darkness and sorrow are the very places where the seeds of new life are to be found. Those are the places where God is mysteriously but powerfully at work.