As we’ve said before, Easter used to be the only time people would enter the Church. And so Lent actually developed as the preparation for this. The season of Easter also developed in relation to baptism. This was the time in which the new life was deepened, and the new Christians were given more of what would sustain them throughout the rest of their lives, leading one further into the mystery of the communion of God and humanity in the person of Jesus.
This is why today’s gospel is so fitting for the season. Our gospel is an icon of the whole mystery of God and humanity living together. It is like a bonsai Bible, the whole thing in miniature. In it, we have a blueprint of the spiritual life. We have the experience of the grace of repentance. We have the need to spend time with Christ. We have the centrality of the scriptures; and, finally, we have the sacramental reality of Christ taking flesh in our lives. It’s all there.
The first thing to note about our gospel is the direction of travel. In Luke’s Gospel, everything is centred on Jerusalem. At the beginning of Luke, there is Zechariah’s vision, then the presentation of Jesus. There is also the whole journey to Jerusalem, and the time spent around the Temple. And at the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the Apostles to return to Jerusalem and await the gift of the Holy Spirit because, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, that is where the proclamation of the Good News must begin. Jerusalem is the place where God is with his people before going out to all the nations.
Given all this, the first thing we notice is that these two disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. They are going the wrong way. They don’t know what they are doing. We hear this also when they act as though Jesus is the one who doesn’t know what is going on. They think they understand, but, as Jesus points out, they have no idea. They are completely lost and they don’t even know it.
Or maybe they do? They are clearly unhappy. Isn’t this a familiar aspect of the spiritual life? We think we know what we are doing, but something doesn’t feel right. We think we have it all together, but there is a feeling that we can’t quite put our finger on. Something just out of reach.
But one of the great consolations of this story, and of the spiritual life, is that Jesus reaches out to us, comes to find us. He doesn’t leave us to muddle along. He comes and walks alongside us. More that that, he asks us questions, tries toget us to open our hearts to him. We hear that they don’t recognise him, but he recognises them. He knows what is in their hearts, but he wants them to spell it out, so that they can hear it themselves. So, his question stops them in their tracks. And so we might also think back on those moments when life has pulled us up short. What was the question addressed to us?
But precisely because Jesus’s question hits home, this leads to the disciples telling Jesus their hopes and disappointments. This too is an important step: openness with God, honesty in prayer. When the moment of vulnerability strikes, we should not shy away. Instead, we should trust in God’s love andgiven him our hearts, in whatever state they are in.
The next thing to note is how Jesus uses scripture to put everything in context. This is the crucial place of the Bible in our lives. We find our story there, but the right way up. This is why it pays to be familiar with sacred scripture: it gives us the right lens through which to understand our lives.
Bound up with this, though, is the next part of the story. Jesus is about to move on. His way is always one of freedom. Once he has given us something to be going on with, we have to invite him to stay. And the disciples do. They stop their journey and ask him to stay with them. This is the place of personal prayer in our lives. We have to sit with scripture. We have to sit with the events of our lives. We have to sit with the sacraments. We have to spend time with God. It is only at this point that the Word begins to take root in our lives. Again, this is because our God is the God of freedom. When people look for a knockdown proof of God, when people seem almost to want to be bullied into believing, basically, when they want some other way than faith, they are not talking about our God. Our God is in the quiet breeze.
Even at this stage, though, we hear they still do not recognise God. This is because knowledge of what must be done is not the same as doing it. The Word must take flesh. Love must always act. And so it is only in the breaking of the bread, when Christ feeds them, when they become one with him, that they realise the truth of their situation. They realise whose life they are sharing. This gives them direction. They know what they have to do, where they have to be. So, let’s use today’s gospel as a bit of a roadmap. Where are we in this story and where are we going?