May 1, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter on April 30, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; and Luke 24:13-35.
For this Sunday and this Sunday only, we’re back in the gospel of Luke. This story takes place on Easter Sunday itself. Let’s try to imagine these two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They are not in Jesus’ innermost circle, but they know the apostles. They are despondent that Jesus, whom they thought was the Messiah has been crucified.
We know that one of them is named Cleopas, but we don’t know who the other disciple is. Scholars have suggested that the unnamed disciple is us!
One out of every five sentences in the Gospel of Luke is about Jesus sharing a meal. Like the disciples in Emmaus, when we break bread together at this Mass, may we find ourselves in the presence of Jesus!
Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. For several years, she had been studying inspirational people who were filled with joy. After studying thousands of these people, on a particular morning in November 2006, she compiled a list of the characteristics these people had: “worthiness, rest, play, trust, faith, intuition, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude, and creativity.” She was in her academic data-gathering researcher mode. She made another list of the things that these people avoided: “perfection, numbing, certainty, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment, and scarcity.”
And then, she switched out of her detached researcher mode, scanned the two lists, and it hit her like a ton of bricks. Those things that the inspiring, joyful people avoided? It was a list of her own personal life values. It was a stunning moment of recognition. She writes in the preface of one of her books, “Once you see a pattern, you can’t un-see it. Trust me, I’ve tried.” After a few moments of tears and twenty minutes of shock, she packed up her research and didn’t touch it for 16 months.
Imagine Cleopas and his companion on the road on Easter Sunday. It’s the end of the world for them. They had placed their hope in Jesus as the Messiah, and now Jesus had been crucified. Whatever and wherever Emmaus was, it was some sort of escape, a place to forget.
My absolute favorite religious song written since Vatican II is a 4-verse song written by the composer Michael Ward. The first verse is told from the perspective of Cleopas and his companion:
In the walking on the road, we saw him.
In the telling of our hopes, we saw him.
In the burning of our hearts, we saw the Lord.
Well, that’s all well and good. They saw Jesus, but they didn’t truly recognize him.
Brené Brown went through the fires of self-examination for 16 months and came out a better person. She has become a leading voice on wholehearted living through courage, compassion, and connection. A video of her presentation on this experience and what she learned, given in Houston in 2010, remains one of the five most-viewed TED Talks ever given.
The first verse of Michael Ward’s song continues:
At the meal he took the bread and then he blessed it, broke it, offered it.
In the breaking of the bread, we saw him!
Suddenly our eyes were opened, and we knew he was alive.
Think of the symbolism of all the various meals Jesus shares in the gospel of Luke. These meals are about courage, compassion, and connection. Amazingly, even though it’s at least 7 miles back to Jerusalem from Emmaus, and even though it’s now nightfall, Cleopas and his companion set off. From that moment of recognizing Jesus, they have courage, and they want to compassionately connect with the other disciples immediately.
When Brené Brown first started her 16 months of self-examination, she wasn’t sure she believed in the values of wholehearted living. But she decided to go through the motions of being courageous, demonstrating compassion, and desiring connection every day. Over time, she came to experience the benefits. As she writes, “Believing is seeing.” In our lives, we might recognize Jesus for only a fleeting moment, but as Brené Brown points out: once you see something, you can’t un-see it.
This Easter season, perhaps you’re not feeling your heart burning within you. Maybe you doubt why we gather every weekend for this breaking of bread. But try to believe, even if you can’t see it. Trust that the Eucharist is the source of courage, compassion, and connection. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide you with those gifts.
Michael Ward’s song ends with the story of Pentecost and what we Christians have been called to do every day since:
We took bread as he had done and then we blessed it, broke it, offered it.
In the breaking of the bread, we saw him!
There within our midst was Jesus, and we knew he was alive.
In the breaking of the bread, he is here with us again,
and we know he is alive! Alleluia, alleluia!
Come Holy Spirit, come as a fire and cleanse our hearts! Fill us with courage, compassion, and a desire for connection!
Michael Ward’s “In the Breaking of the Bread,” performed by Kitty Cleveland: