Walking dead, with life himself

Third Sunday of Easter
Jesus cares deeply about those who have lost hope,
and goes out of his way to restore them to life

Excerpts from Saint Augustine’s Sermon on today’s Gospel reading: Luke 24:13–35
The Appearance on the Road to Emmaus

The disciples were so shattered by the crucifixion
that they forgot all Christ’s teaching and promises

2. So what benefit has this reading bestowed on us? A very considerable one if we understand it rightly. Jesus appeared. He was seen with their eyes, and wasn’t recognized. The Master was walking with them along the way, and he himself was the way. And they weren’t yet walking along the way; he found, you see, that they had wandered off the way. After all, when he had been with them before the passion, he had foretold everything; that he was going to suffer, to die, to rise again on the third day. He had foretold it all, but his death had erased it from their memories. They were so shattered when they saw him hanging on the tree, that they forgot about him teaching, they were not expecting him to be rising, nor holding on to what he had been promising.

We, they said, were hoping that it was he that would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). O my dear disciples, you were hoping! So now you’re no longer hoping? Look, Christ is alive; is hope dead in you? Certainly, certainly, Christ is alive. Christ being alive, found the hearts of his disciples dead, appearing to their eyes, and not appearing. He was at one and the same time seen and concealed. I mean, if he wasn’t seen, how could they have heard him questioning them, and answered his questions? He was walking with them along the road like a companion, and was himself the leader. Of course he was seen, but he wasn’t recognized. For their eyes were held, as we heard, so that they wouldn’t recognize him (Luke 24:16). They weren’t held so that they wouldn’t see him, but they were held so that they wouldn’t recognize him.

We break bread, and we recognize the Lord

3. Ah yes, brothers and sisters, but where did the Lord wish to be recognized? In the breaking of the bread. We’re all right, nothing to worry about; we break bread, and we recognize the Lord. It was for our sakes that he didn’t want to be recognized anywhere but there, because we weren’t going to see him in the flesh and yet we were going to eat his flesh. So if you’re a believer, any of you, if you’re not called a Christian for nothing, if you don’t come to church pointlessly, if you listen to the word of God in fear and hope, you may take comfort in the breaking of bread. The Lord’s absence is not an absence. Have faith, and the one you cannot see is with you. These two, even when the Lord was talking to them, did not have faith, because they didn’t believe he had risen, nor had they any hope that he could rise again. They had lost faith, lost hope. They were walking along, dead, with Christ alive, they were walking along, dead, with life itself. Life was walking along with them, but in their hearts life had not yet been restored.

You too, then, if you want to have life, do what they did in order to recognize the Lord. They showed him hospitality. The Lord, you see, was like someone who still had a long way to go, but they held him back. When they reached the place they were making for, they said, Stay with us now, the day has faded toward evening (Luke 2:29). Constrain the stranger, if you want to recognize the Savior. What had been lost through infidelity was restored through hospitality. So the Lord made himself present in the breaking of the bread. Learn where to look for the Lord, learn where to have him, learn where to recognize him. It’s when you eat him. The faithful you see, know something which they can understand better in this reading than those who don’t know it.

Faith is built up by the Lord’s absence; sight when he comes again will be the reward for faith now

4. The Lord Jesus was made known, and after being made known, he appeared no more. He withdrew from them in the body, since he was held by them in faith. That indeed is why the Lord absented himself in the body from the whole Church, and ascended into heaven, for the building up of faith. After all, if you only know what you can see, where does faith come in? But if you also believe what you cannot see, when you do see it you will rejoice. Let faith be built up, because it will be paid back with sight. It will come, what we cannot see, it will come, brothers and sisters, it will come. Mind how it finds you.

…You may be quite sure, he will come. Not only will he come, but he will come even if you don’t want him to. Woe to those who haven’t believed, and great joy to those who have believed! Believers will rejoice, unbelievers will be confounded. Believers are going to say, “Thank you, Lord, what we heard is true, what we believed is true, what we hoped is true, what we now see is true.” Unbelievers, though, are going to say, “Where has the fact of our not believing got us to, where the fact that we used to think that what was read was all lies!” That’s how it will happen, and confusion will be paid with punishment, while joyful thankfulness will receive its reward; because those will go into eternal burning, and the just into eternal life (Matthew 25:46).

— Saint Augustine, Sermon 235, Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons

Prayer: Act of Hope

O my God, relying on Your almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

 

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