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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

A Lenten Meditation on Our Resurrected Lord's Way to Emmaus

By:   David L. Vise
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A Lenten Meditation on Our Resurrected Lord's Way to Emmaus

The very day of his resurrection Jesus celebrates the Mass along the way to Emmaus with the unsuspecting Cleophas and his companion. 


In fact, Jesus finds them hopeless, as these two had already demoted Jesus to the level of a mere prophet, but let’s review the pericope in the gospel of Luke 24:13-27:

“13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

So thus far, Cleophas and his companion were introduced to the Mass of the Catechumens, with Jesus’ homily unveiling the scriptures (Old Testament) showing that what just happened had to happen to the Messiah.  At the heart of His homily resides the mystery of suffering, as Jesus puts it: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Grappling with suffering is not just at the heart of the mission of the Messiah, the Son of God, but it is at the heart of the human condition.  Which of us can indict Cleophas and his companion when we all have a natural aversion to suffering?  Nonetheless, it is a necessary condition to enter into glory, because as the Head (Christ) goes, so will the body (His Church). As such, our meditation is intended to conduce the mind to accept suffering when it comes.  So, let’s continue with the biblical narrative:

“28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Yes, Jesus shows Himself in the Eucharist, as in verse 35 we read, “he [Jesus] had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  His sacramental presence hides His divinity as his humanity hid it in his kenosis as Saint Paul informs us in Philippians 2:7-8: “but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” No wonder the Church tells us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. In it, Christ makes Himself known to us in the most intimate way possible, by asking us to consume Him.  For just as the lamb in the Passover had to be consumed, so we too must eat that which we previously adore.  Oh, divine mystery that makes us partakers of the divine nature even on this side of eternity!

Suffering and glorification go hand in hand: to this reality we must assent.

But what did Jesus tell them that they confessed: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  What a homily it must have been!

Even though we do not have the details, we do have some pointers to dare, with as broad a brush attempt as possible, most likely incomplete, the texts that Jesus must have broached. For Luke tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”  So, let us start with Moses in the book of Exodus, where in chapter 3 God reveals His own name in what is known as the tetragrammaton or the four-letter name of God that is spelled in Hebrew as YHWH. This name is so sacred that it is never spoken aloud by Jews, who instead use the word Adonai to refer to God. The significance of the tetragrammaton is that it is the personal name of God, the name by which He revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush. This name is a reminder that God is not just a distant deity, but a personal God who cares about His people and is intimately involved in their lives.  But how intimate?  To the point of suffering and dying for us.  Let us recall that the Torah (or the first five books of the Old Testament) were most certainly written in paleo Hebrew, where each letter is not just a symbol but a sign; each letter represents a physical thing or action as well as a number.  The four letters of YHWH, written and read from right to left (in Hebrew), are yodh, he, waw, and he; yodh signifies “arm with hand”, he signifies “behold”, waw signifies “nail”, he again signifies “behold”.  So, the “I am that I am” or existence itself is really beckoning us in His very name to behold the hand and behold the nail.  Namely to contemplate His very own Son who would die crucified for His love of us.  No wonder John would exclaim in his gospel the well-known verse in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  It is this that we are asked to contemplate this Good Friday: His passion.

Throughout the Old Testament, the prophets played a crucial role in communicating God's message to His people. Among the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Micah, and Malachi stand out as particularly important for their prophecies of the Messiah.

Isaiah 7:14, for example, prophesies that the Messiah will be born of a virgin and refers to the Messiah as Immanuel, which means "God with us." Isaiah 9:6-7 describes the Messiah as a child who will be born to bring peace and justice to the world. Isaiah 53 brings us face to face with the suffering servant, who (as verse 5 tells us) “was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”  Jeremiah 23:5-6 speaks of a righteous branch of David who will reign as king, while Zechariah 9:9-10 describes a king who will come in humility, riding on a donkey, but also in 12:10 as the “one whom they have pierced, [and] they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

Micah 5:2-4 is perhaps the most well-known prophecy of the Messiah in the Old Testament. It prophesies that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem and will be a ruler who will bring peace to the world. On the other hand, Malachi will announce the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass in chapter 1, verse 11: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place, incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”

Josephus, the Jewish historian, an eyewitness of the Passover celebration prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, informs us that at least 256,500 lambs were killed in the Temple during Passover in one year. In fact, one of the early Fathers of the Church, Justin Martyr (circa 105 AD), in his letter to Trypho the Jew, recounts this activity that was a yearly reminder to all Israel of the forthcoming crucifixion of the Messiah.  Saint Justin explains in chapter XL:

"The mystery, then, of the lamb which God enjoined to be sacrificed as the Passover, was a type of Christ; with whose blood, in proportion to their faith in Him, they anoint their houses, i.e., themselves, who believe on Him. For that the creation which God created -- to wit, Adam--was a house for the spirit which proceeded from God, you all can understand. And that this injunction was temporary, I prove thus. God does not permit the lamb of the Passover to be sacrificed in any other place than where His name was named; knowing that the days will come, after the suffering of Christ, when even the place in Jerusalem shall be given over to your enemies, and all the offerings, in short, shall cease; and that lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb. And the two goats which were ordered to be offered during the fast, of which one was sent away as the scape [goat], and the other sacrificed, were similarly declarative of the two appearances of Christ: the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape [goat]; and His second appearance, because in the same place in Jerusalem you shall recognize Him whom you have dishonored, and who was an offering for all sinners willing to repent, and keeping the fast which Isaiah speaks of, loosening the terms of the violent contracts, and keeping the other precepts, likewise enumerated by him, and which I have quoted, which those believing in Jesus do. And further, you are aware that the offering of the two goats, which were enjoined to be sacrificed at the fast, was not permitted to take place similarly anywhere else, but only in Jerusalem.”

The Messiah is the Son of God.  This sets Him apart from other prophets, rulers, and kings. In Psalm 2:7, God says to the Messiah, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”  And the same psalmist, in Psalm 22, would introduce this Messiah first as a suffering one, who Matthew, the evangelist, would recount in chapter 27, verse 46, as crying at three o’clock the same words of “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani,” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Yet within the same psalm we see the fullness of His deity, when it tells us that this suffering Messiah would proclaim His triumph over death from verse 22 to the end: “You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”  This is why suffering was in the offing; the Messiah had to suffer to liberate not just Israel but “all the families of the nations”.  In Him the promise made to Abraham was fulfilled in Genesis 22:18: “and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”  This Isaiah announced in Isaiah 56:7: “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  For His glorification in His resurrection was also announced in Psalm 16:10: “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.”

Let us then celebrate joyfully this Easter Sunday as if we ourselves were on our way to Emmaus, but this time not surprised, as Cleophas and his companion, but rather in the hope that if we suffer with Him we will also be raised with Him!

The Jewish liturgy included the Tamid and Yom Kippur, which anticipated the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The offering of the Tamid sacrifice involved the sacrifice of a lamb, which was killed and then its blood was poured out on the altar. This was followed by the offering of incense and the pouring of wine on the altar. The Tamid sacrifice symbolized the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Similarly, the Yom Kippur sacrifice, which was offered once a year, foreshadowed the ascension of Jesus. The Yom Kippur sacrifice involved the sacrifice of two goats, one of which was killed and the other of which was set free into the wilderness. The latter symbolized the ascension of Jesus into heaven. The author of Hebrews writes to a community of Jewish Christians who were facing persecution and struggling to hold on to their faith in Jesus. In this context, the author presents Jesus as the high priest who offers a new and better sacrifice than the old covenant system of animal sacrifices.  This book emphasizes the importance of Jesus' resurrection and ascension to heaven, which he sees as crucial to His role as the high priest who offers the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. In Hebrews 9:11-12, the author writes, "But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption." Jesus is the high priest who offers His own blood as the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. The sacrifice of Jesus is understood as perpetual (unlike the Tamid of the Old Testament, which, although declared perpetual, was only a foreshadow) and this is reflected in the Mass, which is celebrated daily around the world. In the Mass, the priest as the high priest offers the sacrifice of the Eucharist, which is the perpetual yet unbloody sacrifice of Jesus. In Hebrews 4:14-16, the author writes, "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help."

Suffering and glorification go hand in hand: to this reality we must assent. In fact, Saint Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the Romans 8:16-17: “it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” But like the father in the pericope of Mark 9:15-25 we must beg, nah, cry, for this grace and say: “I believe [Lord]; help my unbelief!”

Passages such as the ones discussed above may have been among the ones on which Jesus elaborated along the way with Cleophas and his companion. Let us then celebrate joyfully this Easter Sunday as if we ourselves were on our way to Emmaus, but this time not surprised, as Cleophas and his companion, but rather in the hope that if we suffer with Him we will also be raised with Him!

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Last modified on Wednesday, April 5, 2023