Were not our hearts burning within?

On this 3rd Sunday of Easter, we hear of the beautiful biblical account called the Road to Emmaus. It’s one of my favorite biblical encounters where Jesus, after his resurrection, joins two of his disciples who do not recognize him as they walk to the town of Emmaus. This painting, by Robert Zund, which hung on my parents living room wall, brings back childhood memories of where I would imagine myself as one of the disciples on that road talking with Jesus. I don’t remember exactly what I discussed with Jesus, but I do recall the sheer joy of being with Jesus, and that was enough for me.

As I grew older, and began to study theology, I now see this amazing encounter with Jesus in a deeper and perhaps more profound way. It has all the nuances of the liturgical setting of the Mass as the disciples recount their encounters with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Their encounter is the same encounter that we have with Jesus every time we gather together to celebrate Mass. Let’s take a look at the similarities of these encounters.

The first encounter that we experience with Jesus at Mass is, “Where two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is in our midst.” The two disciples were talking about Jesus the Nazarene and how they were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. Jesus drew near and walked with them, but their eyes prevented them from recognizing him. Even with their dull senses, Jesus elevates them to the next level of encounter. How often are our senses dulled by the good, the bad, and the ugly that we experience each day of our life journey? May our dulled senses not keep us from making the journey to Mass each Sunday where Jesus awaits to bring us to the next level of encounter with him.

The second encounter that we experience with Jesus at Mass is through the “Living Word of God,” Sacred Scripture. In the Gospel account, Jesus explained Sacred Scripture to the two disciples, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” After hearing Jesus speak, the two disciples exclaimed, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke… and opened the Scriptures?” May our hearts burn within as we too experience the deep encounter with Jesus as we break open the Living Word of God at Mass. With hearts ablaze one would think that Jesus would have stopped there, but no, he knows that their hearts and ours are perfectly primed for the culminating level of encounter with him.

This leads us to the third and greatest encounter that we experience with Jesus at Mass which is through the Eucharist: “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” “Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him … in the breaking of bread.” Our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, which is “…the heart and summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once and for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body, which is the Church,” (CCC 1407) shows us the meaning and purpose of our encounter with Jesus is “to proclaim the Good News to all nations.”

The fourth Encounter with Jesus at Mass is a stark reminder of the Mission entrusted to each of us as the priest concludes the Mass by saying, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” We are reminded “with their hearts burning within they went forth proclaiming the good news of Jesus.” So it should be with us after each Mass; our hearts should be burning and our eyes should be opened as we recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread.

May this Easter Season continue to help our hearts burn within as we grow in our love encounter with Jesus Christ, which in turn will help us to love those around us.

Christ is Risen Alleluia, Alleluia!
Fr. John Poncini