As we enter another week of the “stay at home” order that has been asked of us by our state government, we come to the Third Sunday of Easter and ponder once again the story of the two disciples who find themselves going home to Emmaus after experiencing great disappointment in Jerusalem. The one in whom they had placed their hopes had been executed like a common criminal. Then a fantastic story had started to circulate that he had been seen and had risen from the dead. This was all more than they could imagine. They decided to go home, back to their lives as they had known them.
On the way they were greeted by a stranger. He seemed to be oblivious of all that happened in Jerusalem. When they expressed their despair and their disappointment, he entered into dialogue with them about the Hebrew Scriptures, pointing out that the events of the previous week had all been foretold by the prophets of Israel. Toward the end of the day, they invited him to share the evening meal with them. During that meal, as he blessed and broke bread with them, they recognized who he was. “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”
Since Sunday of the Third Week of Lent, we have been unable to sit at the Lord’s Table to share the bread of life. We have not been able to bless and break bread and share it with one another. To be sure, this has been one of the greatest challenges for those of us who have shared in that bread on a daily basis. However, as the weeks have passed, we have been looking for ways to nourish our faith even though the food for the journey has been missing. I believe that part of the answer to this lies in the first part of the Gospel passage for today. St. Luke puts it this way: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”
In paragraph twenty-one of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Word of God, the Church teaches us: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body.” The bread of life, the very presence of Jesus in our midst is to be found both in God’s word and in the Body of Christ. So while we have been deprived of the Eucharist, we have not been deprived of the presence of Jesus. Yes, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our faith. However, that faith finds its foundation in the Word of God, the very presence of God in our midst.
In the very first year of my seminary education, one of our teachers posed a question to us. Using the Soviet Union and Communist regime of China as an example, he asked us: If we were given the choice to either celebrate the Eucharist and the other sacraments, or to preach the Gospel, which course would the Church be forced to take? Naïve first year seminarians, most of us chose the celebration of the sacraments. Imagine our surprise when he told us that we were wrong. Without the Gospel, our faith would lack the foundation for the celebration of the sacraments. Without the foundation, the “building” of our faith would eventually collapse. The Church would never be able to forsake the preaching of the Gospel. Shortly after this class, the Second Vatican Council published the Dogmatic Constitution to which I refer in the preceding paragraph. There it was in black and white. Jesus is present to us just as really in the Word of God as he is in the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.
So as we keep this Third Sunday of Easter and once again forego the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us not forget that Jesus is really present to us in the Scriptures. Just as Jesus explained his death and resurrection to Cleopas and his wife as he walked with them to Emmaus, he continues to walk with us today. Stay close to him through the Scriptures.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator