Archbishop’s homily for the Third Sunday of Easter in St Chad’s Cathedral

Lord Jesus, explain the scriptures to us.  Make our hearts burn within us as you talk to us.

As we continue our journey through the Easter season today’s Gospel puts a new spring into our steps.  St Luke offers us a very vivid account of the experience of the two disciples who were on their way to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem.  As they walked along they were talking together about all that had happened.  They were sharing with each other their sense of bewilderment and disappointment.  They had pinned their hopes on Jesus because they believed that he would be the one to set Israel free.

Two friends walking together – perhaps to visit some relatives or other friends in Emmaus – joined by a third companion on the way.  These are all poignant reminders for us of the restrictions that have changed our lives.  For the moment we cannot travel from one place to another or visit our relatives or friends – and we know that this is in the interests of their health and wellbeing as well as our own.

Like the two disciples we may be feeling bewildered and anxious about the future, concerned about the safety of loved ones, worried about work-related issues, not able to see our way ahead as clearly as we would wish.  Cleopas and his companion on the road also had a deep sense of loss.  When they were asked what they were discussing they said:  All about Jesus of Nazareth…and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified.

They were grieving for the loss of the Lord in whom they had placed all their hopes and they felt bereft:  they stopped short, their faces downcast.  There are for all of us moments in life when the things we experience, the things we hear and see, make us stop short, paralysed in uncertainty or grief or fear.  Eyes that are downcast cannot see the road ahead – or they are fearful about what they might see there.

Some of us may well have experienced a sense of loss in our own lives recently.  The death of a family member or friend is especially hard for those who were unable to be with their loved ones.  We pray for all those doctors, nurses and care-workers who have accompanied people on their final journey in recent weeks, offering the comfort and reassurance of a hand to hold on the way.

The risen Christ chose to accompany the disciples on the road to Emmaus:  Jesus himself came up and walked by their side: but something prevented them from recognising him.  Whenever we are going through a difficult time, the risen Christ is there beside us, even though, like the disciples, we don’t always recognise him.  Our preoccupations and distractions can blind us to the presence of the Lord, until we listen to his voice speaking to us.

I know that during the unsettling times in which we live it has been a particular hardship for you not to be able to come to church or to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.  I thank all of you who have participated in the Masses being live-streamed from the Cathedral and from fifty parishes across the Archdiocese.  The Act of Spiritual Communion that you make as the celebrant receives the Eucharist will bring you close to the Lord, for he never deprives you of the grace you need day by day.

Today’s Gospel offers us another important insight.  For the disciples on the way to Emmaus it was first of all through the Scriptures that they felt the presence of the Lord.  They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?’  In this Year of the Word of God we are trying to refocus on the scriptures as the way that God reaches into our hearts through the remembered and recorded words and actions of his Son.

St Luke’s Gospel has helped us to see ourselves in the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  There is a journey that stills lies ahead of us before we can arrive, as they did, and sit down again with the Lord to recognise him in the breaking of bread.  Although at present we cannot fully enjoy that moment of communion with him and with each other in the Eucharist, we can be certain that he is accompanying is on the way whenever we pick up the scriptures and ask him to explain them to us again.

My dear friends, we pray for one another as we continue the journey together in company with the risen Christ and asking him:  Lord Jesus, explain the scriptures to us.  Make our hearts burn within us as you talk to us.

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