The first stage of the Emmaus story is the broken dream. First, listen to other’s troubles. Make use of telephone therapy- call a friend. If you share your pain you cut it in half, if you don’t you double it. Pray also; all our dashed hopes can be shared with the one in whom those hopes have been fulfilled. Jesus chooses to visit us as travelers where we are, not where we would like to be.
The travelers are sad (Luke 24:17). He chides them for being “slow of heart,” as a way of describing the stupor induced by the world; trying to grasp the truth through merely human words and human terms.
Or, maybe the travelers were traumatized. The scholar Serene Jones says that Jesus, their leader, has just been tortured and executed and they are replaying the scene of the crucifixion again and again. Thank God Jesus decisively intervenes and interrupts their frantic speech, and he calls the disciples “foolish.”1
This suggests that God knows that we will tell distorted stories of our traumatic events, stories that perpetuate further harm, stories that bear in them the marks of the violence that haunt us. Jesus steps into the playback loop that traps their imaginations, and he speaks.
What does Jesus do when he breaks their pattern of storytelling? Remarkably, he begins to reconstruct his account of his death and continued life, and he does so, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”
A tale from the Jewish Hasidim says that reading the sacred Torah puts it on the heart, but when the heart breaks, the holy words will fall inside.
Even though they still don’t recognize him, the healing has begun because, the travelers, in hindsight, explicitly report that their “hearts burned” within them as Jesus was opening the Scriptures to them. Peter did the same to his listeners in our First Reading, which is the first recorded sermon of the Christian church.
The premise of all the purgation and illumination is that Jesus told them that suffering and glory are coextensive dimensions in this world: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
They were ready now for Jesus’ complete disclosure in the Eucharist (the breaking of the bread), which “opens their eyes.” There is no doubt that it was Eucharist; practically formulaic for the Eucharist.
The presence of Jesus in the tabernacle must be a kind of magnetic pole attracting an ever greater number of souls enamored of him, ready to wait patiently to hear his voice and, as it were, to sense the beating of his heart.
Jesus is walking right beside you. You feel it in the words of a spouse, neighbor, son or daughter, stranger. Walking on whatever road you are on. Jesus is alive. Not history. “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”
The risen Christ is only gradually made manifest to us journeying disciples. Physical sight is not necessary to a heart alive with faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
Then Jesus vanishes from their sight, and through this vanishing their inner vision is opened; they will recognize him at Mass.
He will indeed stay with them in the Eucharist.
Mystics who experience enlightenment or illumination are energized to become more actively engaged in the world, not more withdrawn.
(1) Serene Jones; Emmaus Witnessing: and the Disordering of the Theological Imagination, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, January 1, 2001.