Sometime in the afternoon of Easter day two disciples, who had loved Jesus dearly, went to their village, called Emmaus, about two hours' walk from Jerusalem, They were sorely disappointed, and naturally they could speak only of the thing that was uppermost in their heart. After a while a stranger overtook them, and gradually took part in the conversation.
Let us beg for the grace to allow Jesus, who often is our fellow traveller on our way to heaven, to operate in our souls so that He may relieve us of what depresses us and that He may impart His own joy and peace to us.
I. Doubt and Darkness
From what they tell the stranger it is clear that they were profoundly attached to Jesus, "who was a prophet, mighty in word and work before God and all the people". They were, however, still more attached to their erroneous prejudices concerning the Messiah: "We hoped that it was He that should have redeemed Israel." And now He had died and been buried: it had all been a vain dream. True, this morning the tomb had been found empty; but He Himself had not been seen. In two words St Gregory sketches the feelings of these disappointed men, "amabant, dubitabant: they loved, but they doubted". They could not possibly cease thinking of Him, and they did not see how any man could have aught else on his mind. But neither could they rid themselves of their narrow Messianic notions and keep their minds open to different possible interpretations of the events. Against the very dawning of the healing truth their eyes were completely shut.
Deeply discouraged, then they were returning to their village and to the drab realities of everyday life, somewhat like the rich young man who lacked the courage to accept the Lord’s invitation and walked away sad.
II. Gradual Enlightenment
The two disciples owe their rescue to the Good Shepherd, who went in search of the straying sheep and brought them back to the fold. Yet they provided Him with a means of contact; their conversation was all about Him; they gladly admit Him into their company and let Him join in the conversation; they readily answer His question.
He allows them fully to unburden themselves, but anon He bluntly gives them a piece of His own mind, “O foolish, and slow of heart in believing all the things which the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?” (Lk. 24: 25, 26). Rather stern words… but the disciples were not hurt, for they were at once impressed by the earnestness of the Stranger. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things that were concerning Him.” And while He thus walked along by their side, and unveiled to them the great mystery to which hitherto their hearts and their minds had remained closed, their eyes gradually perceived the light and their hearts grew warm within them, as they later on confessed. The risen Saviour, through the grace which He pours into their hearts, now began to come back to life in their souls too. “He cleansed them thoroughly from every taint of their old nature and lifted them receive a holy newness” (Prayer over the People, Tuesday of the Holy Week).
Even in our own days Our Lord operates in our souls in the same manner: Again and again He assists us to grope our way through the profound mystery that confronts us in the life of His Church and in our own individual lives, through the mystery of suffering and humiliation to victory. Let us be attentive and listen to His voice when, under some disguise or other, He teaches along the road: then our hearts also will burn within us, if we readily and confidently open them to His working.
III. Final Revelation
They have listened with rapt attention to the stranger’s explanations. Meanwhile they have reached Emmaus, and Jesus “made as if he would go further”. This provided them with the opportunity to show their excellent dispositions and perform an act of kindness. “They constrained him saying, Stay with us, because it is towards the evening and they day is now far spent. And He went in with them.”
St. Gregory has a bit of advice for us at this point: “Do you wish to understand (more fully) what you have heard? Then hasten to put into practice as much as you have understood.” Such practical applications are themselves a source of light: do not demand to receive by anticipation the light that can only come from action.
The final revelation was vouchsafed them, while they were at table with their Guest. “He took bread, and blessed and broke, and gave them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and he vanished out of their sight …. And rising up the same hour, they went back to Jerusalem and they found the eleven gathered together, and those that were with them, saying The Lord is risen, indeed and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in their way, and how they knew him in the breaking of the bread.”
During the short journey their mind had received so much light, and their hearts had grown so full of love, that the merest incident or gesture – we know not which – opened their eyes to the full truth. It is quite possible that Jesus renewed for them the miracle of the Last Supper; what is certain is that He poured into their hearts His own joy and His own strength.
And rising from table they returned at that late hour all the way to Jerusalem, to announce the glad tidings to their brethren. Instances of similar overwhelming illumination are experienced by all those that serve the Master devotedly. They should take note of St. Augustine’s remark, “The purpose of such favours is not that they should be relished in idle quietude, but that they should spur on to zealous action.”
Prayer: When once Thou visits the Heart
Then Truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.