April 26, 2020: The Third Sunday of Easter - Pastor’s Corner
Stay with us. These days, the advice to “stay” is everywhere. Best health practice counsels to: “stay home,” “stay six feet away,” and “stay safe.” The hope is that by “staying,” we can stem the tide of infection during the search for a remedy. Although “staying” is not a cure in itself, it is a necessary means by which public health and wholeness can be restored. There is a power in “staying.”
In the Gospel, we have an illuminative example of “staying” power. The story begins with flight. Jesus’ disciples, Cleopas and his companion, trudge the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. In the wake of the crucifixion, they are fleeing from Jerusalem with heavy hearts. They fear for their lives, they are ashamed that they abandoned their master in his hour of need, and they stew in the dejection of their shattered dreams of Christ as a political liberator. In the midst of the shadow of the cross, they encounter the Risen Christ who enters into their conversation and begins to explain the mysteries of salvation. Though they do not recognize Jesus, when they come to the crossroads, they are reluctant to part ways and so they say to Jesus: “Stay with us.” Though they do not fully realize what they are asking, nor do they know what the result of this invitation will be, request to “stay” makes all the difference. Their hearts have begun to heal and, in this moment, they are hungry for more.
By naming their need for Jesus to “stay,” they are rewarded with blessings beyond their imagining. As Jesus stays with them, he also breaks bread with them. In this action, He leaves them the gift of the Eucharist, His sacramental presence to be eaten and shared. In this moment, the disciples recognize the Risen Lord and, since his sacramental presence remains in them, He disappears. He no longer needs to be physically present, for he is now living within them. Filled with His presence, their response is immediate and decisive. They can no longer simply stay stuck in their fears and doubts. They jump up and race back to the small, isolated community locked in the Upper Room to share their encounter. The Passover bread that they share is no longer simply bread, but is the substance of Christ himself which unites them both with Christ and with one another. By asking Jesus to “stay with us,” Cleopas and his friend get more than they could dream. Jesus comes alive and remains within them. Later, as they reflect on their journey, they come to realize that, even though they didn’t initially recognize Jesus, He was with them and their hearts were “burning within them.” To ask Jesus to stay is to experience the healing, restoring fire of his love.
Like the disciples traveling the Emmaus road, we travel the journey of Easter in the shadow of the cross. We might be carrying fears, frustration, and guilt during this time when we “stay in place.” Especially for us who are in the habit of receiving communion regularly, we mourn the loss of being able to sacramentally receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. And yet, Jesus offers us His presence in our lives. When we ask Jesus to “stay with us,” he will. When we ask Him to give us the strength to journey life’s road amid the anxieties and burdens of pandemic, He will.
A very simple prayer that I often call to mind right after I receive communion is the words of the disciples: “Stay with me, Lord.” I invite you to join me in the prayer. Although public sacramental communion is not possible, when the priest leads spiritual communion at Mass, join me in praying: “Stay with me, Lord.” As you go about the routine of the day invite Jesus with the words: “Stay with me, Lord.” As you wake in morning and retire in evening call upon the strength of his presence: “Stay with me, Lord.” And expect Christ to set your heart afire with his love.