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Through the Liturgy the Lord Reorders our Lives. A Reflection on the Road to Emmaus

April 11, 2012

The very familiar passage about Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is rich with many themes and teachings. I have commented elsewhere that the whole passage is, essentially in the structure of a Mass. You can read that reflection here: Mass on the Move

In this reflection it is worth considering how, in the context of what is essentially a liturgy, Jesus reorders and orients two disciples who have, in effect, lost their way. Through this liturgical encounter, Jesus gets these disciples moving in the right direction again.

As such, we are taught that the Liturgy, especially the Mass, has a way of reordering our disordered lives and restoring our lost orientation. Let’s consider the problem for these two disciples (who are us) and also the solution employed by the Lord.

The ProblemSimply put, these disciples are walking in the wrong direction. They are headed away from Jerusalem, away from the resurrection, away from the gathered Church, away from the good news.

The text says that these disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Lk 24:13). One of them is named Cleopas. The other is unnamed, but if you are willing to accept it, the other disciple might as well be you. The journey would take about three hours at a steady walking pace (no 45 minute Mass here). We are told they have heard rumors that Jesus had been raised, but they discount the testimony of the women, and and head off into discouragement with their backs to the good news.

Yes, simply stated, they are heading away from the light of Christ and His resurrection glory, away from hope, and deeper and deeper into the darkness with each step they take. Sure enough, the text describes them as “downcast.” Jesus will later describe them as slow to believe, even foolish.

The Solution – It is to these disoriented, discouraged and disordered disciples that Jesus comes. Rather than simply appear to them and order them back to Jerusalem, Jesus engages them in an encounter that is both liturgical and sacramental, an encounter that will restore to them a proper orientation, a proper order.

Mass – He gathers with them and inquires of their struggle, a kind of penitential rite. Having heard their struggle he reminds them of God’s word and both applies and interprets for them, a kind of Liturgy of the Word. They then intercede with him in the prayerful petition “stay with us, for the day grows dark and is nearly over,” a kind of prayer of the faithful. What follows can be described as nothing other than the Liturgy of the Eucharist. For the Lord takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. And suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread. Now having their gaze turned toward the Lord, their lives are changed, reordered,  and, in a kind of Ite Missa est they rush out to tell others what and who they have seen and heard.

So,  note that their course is now reversed and they are heading full speed back to Jerusalem, back to the resurrection, to the Church gathered, back to hope, back to the good news and back the to the light. These disciples whose minds were disordered and whose hearts were disoriented, have now been reoriented, and their disordered and darkened minds have come to see and understand. Yes, despair has given way to hope, and joy has replaced downcast dispositions.

The Lord has accomplished this for them through what is best described as a Liturgy, as a Mass.

And what then of us? Can we who are faithful and attentive to the Mass and other Liturgies and Sacraments of the Church not also say that through them the Lord has ordered, reoriented and redirected our lives? I am surely a witness, and pray you are too, that through the Liturgy and Sacraments the Lord has given me a new mind and heart. He has reordered my disordered life, given me an increasingly proper focus and direction.  His word has corrected error and lit up my darkened and disordered mind. His Sacraments have redirected my wayward heart, oriented me to the light, and back to the heavenly Jerusalem. This work must continue. Through the Liturgy the Lord must order our lives rightly and correct the course of our wayward hearts.

At the heart of this reordering is that in the Liturgy we are turned toward God, we look outside ourselves and upward toward God. To turn toward God is to be properly oriented, and this orientation orders our lives rightly.

Yes, all this through the Liturgy, just like at Emmaus, still more so now.

Comments (14)

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  1. Susan says:

    Yes, yes, yes! The Mass, other liturgies and sacraments have ordered, reoriented, and redirected my life. Until I entered the Catholic church 3 years ago, I despaired of any way to effect real changes in my life. Supernaturally, the Lord has done this for me. It has been very difficult at times, but I know that the Holy Spirit is shining light into all my dark places, and showing me the way to the truth. The Eucharist is truly God’s miraculous, precious gift. I am and will be forever grateful that He opened my eyes to see it.

  2. Don Johnston says:

    I read awhile back that of the 132 direct contacts Jesus had with people recorded in the New Testament, six were in the temple and four were in the synagogue. The remaining 122 were in the mainstream of life such as the road to Emmaus. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to communicate face to face with Jesus such as Cleopas and the other unnamed man did in today’s liturgy. Someday…….

  3. Nanci says:

    “At the heart of this reordering is that in the Liturgy we are turned toward God…”
    This is the main reason I “reverted” & my family (husband and four young adult children) entered the Catholic Church last Easter. Every time we head home from Mass (daily or Sunday), we talk first about, not how great the music or the sermon was, but how the whole Mass drew us closer to God~ sometimes through the music & homily, but mostly due to the Sacraments.
    The Liturgy has changed our lives so much- while attending an evangelical church, we used to have to fight to get the kids up on Sunday. Now my kids love to go to daily Mass- even when having to take the bus by themselves. I now have two sons discerning priesthood and one daughter praying about being open to God’s direction in a religious vocation (who also happens to be heading to Rome Friday for three weeks with her brother who has been there studying this semester).
    “I am surely a witness, and pray you are too, that through the Liturgy and Sacraments the Lord has given me a new mind and heart.”
    I pray that God will help my family to be witnesses, and that other families will be too. Thank you for reminding me of the blessing we have in Liturgy!

  4. Mark says:

    A beautiful exposition of this Gospel passage, God Bless You!

  5. wayne says:

    You equate everything in the bible with Catholicism. The plain fact is, nothing in Catholicism has anything to do with Christ or the bible

    • Hmm…I wonder how it is possible to equate everything in the Bible with Catholicism? There is nothing plain about the “fact” you propose, whereas I have presented copious facts….I wonder why and how that is Wayne? I wonder….

    • Tom Drummond says:

      God bless you Wayne.

      I once thought as you did until I understood that the Holy Bible came from the catholic church to support her doctrine that has remained unchanged for nearly 2000 years.

  6. Cathy says:

    I love the Eucharist Hymn here and was wondering if I could get a transposing of the words in English – where would I find that?

  7. JARay says:

    Thank you for this way of looking at the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I have read somewhere that the two disciples could well have been Cleopas and his wife, Mary of Cleopas whom John tells us was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus and who stood at the foot of the Cross. This would mean that they were the parents of James (the Greater) who was certainly at the Last Supper and witnessed Jesus taking the bread and the wine and transubstantiating them into his body, blood, soul and divinity. It is quite a reasonable supposition that James would tell his parents of this wonderful happening because they were not at the Last Supper when their son was ordained a priest (Catholic priest, Wayne, get that!) when Jesus told his Apostles “DO THIS”. And what was the “THIS” that they had to do? Why, exactly, what Jesus had just done. CHANGE the bread and the wine into JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF.
    Now, because they had been told what Jesus did at the Last Supper, when this stranger took bread and wine and did exactly the same AGAIN as Jesus had done at the Last Supper, they RECOGNISED this stranger as Jesus himself. It HAD to be Jesus. It could’nt be anyone else. And immediately he disappeared. They rushed out and hurried back to tell the Apostles that THEY had seen Jesus and they could’nt understand why they did’nt recognised him before in the amazing way in which he explained the Scriptures to them whilst they were on the way to Emmaus. Their hearts “burned within them” at what they had explained to them.

  8. Darren O says:

    And why did he disappear from their sight after the words of consecration? Because, I propose, the bread and the wine were now Him!

  9. Sydney says:

    My heart burned within me as I read this article. The Living Word be praised.

  10. Lorra says:

    I have been on the road to Emmaus many times. A few times, I actually reached Emmaus. How well I can relate to the disillusionment of Cleopas and his friend that events didn’t live up to their ideals of how everything should have turned out.

    Thank you for writing this.

  11. InfiniteGrace says:

    Wow. This is amazing. A while back I wrote a blog post trying to express what the Mass means to me. I wish I had found this one first! http://www.postabortionwalk.blogspot.com

  12. Mark says:

    Hey guys,

    Check out this new passover video on youtube.
    Its filmed in Israel and very inspirational music!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0UN_06tess