Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 26 at the House of Formation in Little Rock.
Have you ever had that odd feeling like you’re not alone? You come into what should be an empty house, but it feels like somebody’s there? No lights on, but you feel a presence?
And then you open the fridge, the light comes on and all of a sudden you see food is missing. Then you notice the dirty laundry and your fears are replaced by excitement. Your brother is home for the weekend. Or perhaps your son or daughter in the case of some of you participating in this Mass over the internet.
In today’s Gospel two men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus had that odd feeling like they were not alone. A man sidled up to them and they told him about Jesus’ tragic death and about angels announcing he had risen.
Then to their amazement this stranger — who they had thought knew nothing of Jesus — explained how the very tragedy that had dashed their hopes was in fact the event that would fulfill their hopes: Scripture said it had to happen this way. The Messiah had to suffer before entering his glory.
Then at dinner, when this astonishingly insightful stranger said the blessing and broke bread with them, their fears were replaced by excitement. The light came on and all of a sudden they saw — and then he vanished from their sight. Jesus had been with them physically all day but they didn’t know it until they recognized him in the breaking of the bread. This was in effect the second Mass in human history, but with a difference: the Last Supper ritualized what was about to occur; this meal celebrated what has now been accomplished.
All of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were for three purposes:
• to convince us that he really had risen victorious over sin and death
• to send us forth to continue his work of salvation
• to replace our fears with excitement and give us the sacramental resources we will need over the long haul to carry out faithfully our role in God’s plan.
In Matthew Jesus sends us forth to baptize all nations. In John he gives the apostles the power to forgive sins. And here in Luke Jesus highlights the Eucharist as the most intimate and life-giving place to encounter Jesus still present among us sacramentally.
Those two men on the road to Emmaus had already known Jesus for some time, but the light didn’t come until they encountered him in the Eucharist. And once their eyes were opened to his enduring sacramental presence in his body and blood, they no longer needed his transitory physical presence as a man of flesh and blood. And in this you and I have a tremendous advantage over Jesus’ contemporaries, even in this time when due to the COVID-19 pandemic most of us are temporarily unable to receive him physically.
Very few of them recognized who Jesus really was when he lived among them, but now like those two disciples, you and I and a billion fellow Catholics do recognize that Jesus is the Son of God and that he continues to be really present among us in the Eucharist, including when exposed for adoration or reserved in the tabernacle outside of Mass. And including inside ourselves, the grace of all the Eucharists we have received in the past remains in us even during this time when access to additional receptions of the Eucharist is temporarily not available.
In this way, the access that you and I have even in this time of COVID-19 is far greater than that of Jesus’ own contemporaries because our eyes are open. But with this greater access also comes greater responsibilities: From whom much has been given, much will be expected.
History’s second Mass there at Emmaus ended with those two disciples going forth full of excitement to give witness to all they had heard and seen in their encounter with Jesus.
At the end of every Mass, I send you forth — including you who are attending via the internet — hopefully full of that same excitement to give witness to how the Lord is continuing to work in your life, even in these days of COVID-19.
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