The Walk to Emmaus is a revered and much preached upon story from the Gospels, especially by our brothers and sisters in Protestant faith traditions. There is something so powerful about the personal nature of the encounter these disciples experienced with the risen Lord. Everyone nods along with the line from the story where they ask themselves, “Were our hearts not burning within us while he spoke to us?”
But I am here before you today to say that their burning hearts were not the heart of that story. It was the action – the breaking of the bread – in which they were totally engaged that is the heart of the story and is the source and summit of our faith. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross is the source of our salvation, and it was the summit of his earthly ministry. This is why Catholics make such a big deal about Good Friday. It marks the day when Life won over Death.
But the story doesn’t end on Good Friday, does it? It climaxes with the joy of the resurrection on Easter morning. The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not understand that joy until that evening meal with the risen Lord. But then their hearts burned with joy.
Jesus told his disciples to memorialize his sacrifice on the Cross with a particular sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the breaking of the bread. That instruction was given by Jesus to the Twelve at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. And we see in Emmaus the first Mass: celebrated by Jesus and hinting at profound truths about every Mass that has ever been prayed or will ever be prayed. Cleopas and the other disciple were totally engaged in the action at the table, and that is why they saw Jesus in the man who broke the bread. When we are at Mass, we need to strive for total engagement of our whole selves – what the Church calls active participation – so that we can see the man, the priest, as he really is – in the person of Christ, recalling the sacrifice on Calvary and offering our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God most holy. Active participation is not putting on the dalmatic as a deacon or reading as a lector or singing as a cantor; it is directing our whole self to focus on the mystery of the Eucharist and making ourselves present at the foot of the cross while allowing ourselves to hear the triumphant song of the angels in heaven around the throne of the lamb. You cannot do that if you are thinking about chores or bills or any other distraction. Active participation is not moving around; it is entering in.
What can we do to get better at true active participation in the source and summit of our faith? Three words have been offered by many Church leaders, and I’m going to offer them now.
The first word is “silence.” Silence seems almost impossible today, as our cell phones are always going off even when we put them on silent. The TV is always on at home, and Spotify is always on wherever I go. Silence today has to be cultivated. It is intentional now. Sacred silence is not a shutting down, it is an opening up. If we quiet our mouths, and we quiet our ears, we can quiet our minds and open up our hearts. God speaks to our hearts, if we let him. And he does not need a soundtrack to do it. Have you ever seen a sunset so beautiful you just had to be silent? Words were not only unneeded, they took away from the event. Imagine how powerful silence is before the one who made that incredibly beautiful sunset.
The second word is “adoration.” It is such a strange word to us today, because we have deconstructed so much of our culture that we don’t really adore much of anything because we don’t acknowledge anything to be better than us. But think back to the Gospel reading from last week, when Thomas – the doubting Thomas – refused to believe until he had evidence. This makes Thomas such a modern person, because we are taught today not to believe anything until we have “proof” of it. But when Thomas had his proof, he knew how to respond. He said, “My God and my Lord.” We adore our God and we serve our Lord. We adore the one who gave up his only Son to pay for all our sins. We drop to our knees because we know we are not worthy to enter under his roof. We know that he is God, and we are still. And then, showing us the immensity of his Love, God reaches down his hand to where we kneel in adoration and says, “I have prepared a place for you in my Father’s house. Come, follow me.”
Well, this gift seems almost too much. Like the disciples in Emmaus, our hearts are on fire but our minds are spinning. Who can possibly comprehend all of this? That brings us to the third word: “formation.” It’s not the same thing as education. We want to grow and shape ourselves so we can accept all of God’s love for us. That’s formation. We want to change our behavior from the sinful pride and passions that dominate us; we want to have the docile spirit of Our Lady. That’s formation. We want to read and hear more of what the Church’s best thinkers have said over the 21 centuries. That’s part of formation. The Catholic faith is like a box of chocolates, except you do know what you’re going to get. It’s all delicious, it’s better and better the deeper you dig into the box, the box never ends, and the chocolate is good for you. Who doesn’t want that kind of formation?
The Eucharistic liturgy is the source and summit of our faith, and it was first celebrated at Emmaus. We’ve been doing it ever since. It is where man meets God. We come to him, and we do what he told us to do. Like Thomas, we adore our God and we serve our Lord. We worship him in song and speech and silence. We try to be totally engaged in the sacrifice at the altar and so be formed in faith as true disciples of Jesus.
Jesus, set our hearts on fire. Amen.