Disappointed disciples Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; 1 Pt 1:17-21; Lk 24:13-35 The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is a literary masterpiece told by a most skilled storyteller. Two very disappointed disciples meet a stranger who appears to know more than he lets on. The three walked together for seven miles, but the two disciples did not recognize that is was the risen Christ who was walking with them. They offered the stranger hospitality for the night. After the meal the three shared, the stranger’s true identity becomes clear. The bitter disappointment of the two friends at the death of Jesus turns into unexpected and unalloyed joy because of their encounter with the risen Christ. This engaging story is a bearer of keen theological insight. Few if any of Luke’s readers ever met Jesus. Indeed, most were not even alive when Jesus was preaching and healing in the synagogues of Galilee and Judea. How could they have an authentic encounter with Jesus? Luke assures his readers that simply being in Jesus’ physical presence is no guarantee of a genuine encounter with him. The experience of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus testifies to this. The two did not recognize who their companion was at first — but then he spoke with them and ate with them: “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us. ... The two recounted ... how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:32-33). The distance of time and space are not obstacles to a genuine experience of the Risen Christ. Christians of every place and every age encounter Christ as they hear the Gospel proclaimed and as they eat at the Lord’s table. The Emmaus episode gives us a glimpse into the pattern of early Christian assemblies. When the Christians of Luke’s day came together for worship, they heard the Scripture proclaimed and explained to them, which was followed by a meal where they remembered Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hearing God’s Word and eating at the Lord’s table are the heart and soul of Catholic worship. All else — language, vestments, orientation for prayer, posture, chant and hymns, incense and candles — all these are matters of routine than can change, and have changed, over the centuries. Absolutizing any of these routine features distorts the authentic tradition of sharing the Lord’s Supper during which we remember the Lord’s death and resurrection at his request (see Lk 22:19). Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for the two friends because the meaning of biblical texts is not immediately self-evident. The Liturgy of the Word without preaching, then, is a truncated form of proclaiming the Gospel. Similarly, assembling the community for worship and then inviting only select members of the community to the Lord’s table does not accord with the example of Jesus, who sought out the company of sinners and ate with them (see Mk 2:16). The Emmaus story is among the most captivating of all the stories by which the first Christians remembered Jesus. It still has the power to evoke a response from us today because we recognize ourselves in those two disappointed disciples. How many of us can say that we have never been disappointed in the course of our walk with the Lord? Don’t we all wish that things would have turned out differently for us? God could have spared us some of crosses that we had to bear. God could have made us wealthier, smarter, healthier. In relating the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke tells us that Jesus will help us get beyond our disappointment. Jesus will help us to see a divine purpose in our lives that we do not fully understand or appreciate. Jesus fulfilled the mission God entrusted although it led to his death on the cross. Jesus’ death led to his disciples disappointment. But death had no claim on Jesus since he lived in loving obedience to God, who raised him from the dead. Our truest happiness comes then from living in loving obedience to God and in loving service of our neighbor. Such a life is worth living and in the end will not disappoint since it is a life with God and for God.