What is the most important moment in the Emmaus story?
Tomorrow, 43 St. Justin Martyr students will receive the Lord for the first time in the Eucharist. If it has been a while since you have seen a first Communion, you are missing something. There is a wide eyed wakefulness to their receiving the Lord. The come up slowly. They know how to put their hands forward, making a little throne for Jesus. They know how to drink from the cup of his blood, how to hand the chalice back. But as wonderful and earnest and devoted as that part is, it is not the best part of first communion. The best part is when they get back to their pews. That’s what always touches my heart. They get back to their pews and kneel down, and fold their hands, and they invite Jesus to ‘stay with them’ in their hearts. Some close their eyes and bow their heads. Others study their hands intently folded. Some look up to the altar and the cross. But they all ‘pause’ from the excitement of the day and simply ask Jesus to stay with them. [Partly they do that because that is what we teach them to do and partly because that is just what they do…] What I proposed to you is this: that moment is the most important part of their first communion. How do I know that? Because that was also the most important moment of the Emmaus story, also.
You and I have had experiences similar to the two disciples on the road. We’ve met people who are fascinating and exciting and who command our attention. We’ve been to movies that are powerful and provocative and wonderfully crafted. We’ve seen sunsets and sunrises and pieces of art which etch themselves in our visual memory because of their stunning beauty. But, unless that “Emmaus Moment” happens, they remain just a fascinating conversation, a good movie, and beautiful sunset. “How nice that was. How beautiful! What a wonderful dinner and evening I had.” And the next day dawns and we are exactly the same as we were the day before.
And that was the danger for the two disciples on the road. They had met this fascinating stranger. He had spoken to them wisely, explaining the scriptures like no one else had. He had engaged them right where their deepest fears met their greatest hopes. And he was appearing to press on, as they were making plans to spend the night in Emmaus. And then came that decisive “Emmaus Moment.” “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” Ah, that is the Emmaus moment. That is the moment that allows what was a wonderful experience to become a moment of encounter with the risen one. That was the moment that allowed everything else that followed – that contemplative, quiet ‘stay with me’ moment; – that ‘stepping back from the craziness of life that is right there in your face.’ Without that pause, that time out as it were, they’d never have recognized Jesus in the day’s event. “Stay with us,” changes that walk and the day’s events from ‘nice’ and ‘interesting’ to life changing. In that pause around the table, they can recognize what is going on in their hearts and lives – “Were not our hearts burning within us…”
I confess, that is the invitation that I find hardest to do in my busy world. To say to our Lord as he appears in the guise of a parent, teen, student, friend – stay with us. My restless – got to get it done – side kicks in. And I miss the opportunity… I miss the connection that is there, waiting for me.
Today, I invite you to take a lesson from our first communicants – and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Invite Jesus into your heart in a moment of quiet. Do it here, when you get back to your seats after you have received the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. And do it at home once this week. Get off the treadmill of life, the endless series of deadlines. They will still be there when you get back, I promise. Make time for that most important task of discipleship – inviting Jesus to stay with you in some moments of quiet. (Perhaps a walk, a fire and a glass of wine, a second cup of coffee…) Let the one who made himself known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread, also make himself known to you.