The story of the disciples encountering Christ on the road to Emmaus has special prominence in the Easter season. Jesus, in His resurrected body, converses with two people walking to the title city. Although the trip was only about seven miles, it could have easily taken a couple of hours walking at a leisurely pace. We, in the twenty-first century, know all too well the perils that lurk along the highways and byways of a two-hour car trip; a flat tire, overheated engine and running out of gas, to name a few. What are the sorts of things that could have caused a breakdown on a walking trip in the first century, especially during the tumultuous aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus?
Walking and Talking
Aside from a sandal blowout, there wouldn’t seem to be too much in the way of mechanical failure to consider as we imagine this ancient trip. Health issues and disposition, on the other hand, might have come into play. When your body is also your means of transportation, then a lot more “moving parts” must be considered. In addition to joints and muscles, the mental “gears” must have been going full throttle between the two disciples as they walked and talked about “all these things that had happened” (Luke 24:14).
Imagine trying to process the Paschal Mystery as a current event! A breakdown of some sort would be easily understandable. There was a lot to sort through as they negotiated their way. The rest of the story is well known and has a happy ending resulting in “how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).
Parallels have been drawn over the centuries between the account of what happened on the road to Emmaus and the celebration of the Mass. The recounting of the events as they walked, and the breaking of the bread mirror the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist, respectively. The road to Emmaus can serve as a template as we travel to and from our weekly Sunday gathering, as well as through our life on Earth.
The Emmaus Model
If we consider the Eucharist, “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 1:10), as a seven-day journey, we can delve a little deeper into some of the possible dynamics involved in our weekly travels as Catholics. We are dismissed at the end of Mass to go forth and announce the Gospel on the way to the next Sunday gathering. This divine cycle, where everything tends toward and flows from Eucharist is in place to serve us until we make our final journey to Heaven. In other words, we can have our walk to Emmaus with Jesus every week of our lives, with all of the attendant things, places and people we meet along the way.
As with all trips, breakdowns will occur even with the best preparation. We can and should discuss current events and matters of faith while we “keep our eyes on the road”. Discussions around the water cooler, family dinner, and engaging in social media all play a part in what we eventually bring to the table at Mass each Sunday. As we participate in the Paschal Mystery during Mass, we should be mindful of our participation in that same mystery throughout the week. Our suffering, obstacles, and pain, as well as our successes and joyful experiences, can be packed neatly in our spiritual suitcases and brought to the altar and to our communion with Christ.
Pray to be Prepared
God has provided, through the sacrifice of His Son, fifty-two trips per calendar year that begins and ends with Sunday Mass. We are also given the entirety of the liturgical year to live out the Paschal Mystery. Beginning with Advent and ending with the feast of Christ The King, we journey through the Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons following the “rules of the road” and directions pertinent to each season. Ordinary Time, which might easily be viewed as a time for setting our lives on “cruise control”, in many ways is actually harder to navigate.
As we journey through the Easter season, let us pray to be prepared for the possibility of breakdowns and setbacks as well as all of the blessings that are often hidden along the road to the City of God.