One of the Church’s earliest memories is the account of the two disciples who fled from Jerusalem after Our Lord’s crucifixion. Jesus was the one person who had meant anything to them. With his death, their whole world had collapsed, and an end was put to their dreams for the future. Struggling to make some sense of their disappointment, they felt that there was nothing else for it but to leave the other apostles and to escape from the place where their hopes had been dashed. On their way out of the city, the two forlorn disciples are joined by a stranger who listens sympathetically to their sorry tale, and helped them to see meaning in all that had happened. At every step of their troubled journey Our Lord was in their midst, but they didn’t recognise his presence until he broke bread with them at Emmaus. Their faith was restored and they returned to Jerusalem with a new-found enthusiasm.
The story of Our Lord and the disciples on the road to Emmaus points the finger at us, and sheds light on our own situation in times of trial. Their distress is our distress in many ways, and their sadness sounds familiar to our ears. How many times have we walked the road to Emmaus with a heavy heart resulting from quarrels in the community, or at home, difficulties at work, or the loneliness of being rejected? The troubles and worries of life can so crowd our minds that it’s so easy to lose our sense of direction, and we can be brought to the point of despair. And all the time we forget that Our Lord is walking with us at our side, ready and anxious to help us, if only we would turn to him for guidance.
Today’s gospel surely inspired Margaret Powers to adapt Mary Stevenson’s well known poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’, which has been a help to Christians in trouble for many years:
One night I dreamed a dream. I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me I looked back at the footprints in the sand. There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life. This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
Today we have an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of recognising the Lord’s presence in our lives. One way we can do this is by growing closer to him through our daily prayer, through our reading of Sacred Scripture, and through our participation at Mass.
We encounter the Lord amidst the ordinariness of human life, we encounter him in the relationships we establish as we share our lives together, and especially when we help those in need. At Sunday Mass, Our Lord invites us to re-live the Emmaus experience as we break the bread which is his Body. We bring to Mass the joys and the sorrows of the week that has gone, and Christ speaks to us as he spoke to those two unhappy disciples. He will throw light on every moment of joy and show that every bit of suffering has a purpose, giving us a motive for living a deeply religious life.
As we share in the breaking of bread at this Mass, we should pray to have our eyes opened, so that we can see beyond the suffering of human living, to the joy that is all around us and ahead of us. Then we will be in a position to go forth at the end of Mass and to proclaim the Good News to those we will meet in the coming week.