Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter
How often in our lives have we been frustrated because something hasn’t gone the way that we expected it to? How often do we discover that a path toward a goal isn’t going to be as easy as we hoped it would be?
Back in the early Spring of 2020, my classmates and I were making all kinds of preparations for our ordinations to the priesthood. Most of us had been making arrangements for ordination receptions, picking the music for our Masses of Thanksgiving at our home parishes, preparing announcements and invitations, making sure that we were inviting everyone who had made an impact on our faith journey…we were in full planning mode. Then COVID hit and everything changed.
Friday, March 13, 2020…Fr. Adam Marchese and I had just sent out our invitations to family and friends for ordination two days before. That morning, while in the seminary chapel, the Rector made an announcement that we were suspending all weekend parish assignments and closing the campus to all outside staff and vendors. Four days later, pretty much the entire world shut down.
In the days that followed, we were told that our planned ordination on May 25th was not going to happen. In fact, the Diocese didn’t have the slightest idea of when it would happen. It could be July, August, September, or later. To say that we were frustrated is putting it lightly. This was the moment we had been anticipating for 9 long years of seminary. And just as we thought we were finally getting ready to begin our ministry as priests, the rug was pulled out from beneath us.
In the hours following Jesus’ crucifixion, His disciples experienced something similar. His death was a moment that they never imagined would happen. What they thought was the end of the story of Jesus didn’t go as they had expected it to. How could the Savior, the Messiah, the very Son of God be put to death on a tree? Was He truly the One that they had been hoping for?
Imagine the fear, the doubt, the despair, the discouragement the disciples were experiencing in those hours between the crucifixion and the Resurrection. All their hope had been lost. What were they to do now?
In our Gospel this morning, we hear the famous passage from St. Luke of the two disciples on the road toward Emmaus. They were walking away from Jerusalem; they were walking away from the community of apostles and Christ’s followers, walking back toward their old way of life. In essence, they were leaving the Church, they were abandoning the Lord.
It wasn’t because they were big sinners. It was just that the Cross, the tragedy of Good Friday, had scared them away. Look at what we hear them say to this “Stranger” that begins to walk with them. They tell Him: “We were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel.” They simply couldn’t understand how salvation could come out of the Cross, how victory could come out of defeat. So, they simply gave up.
But notice, the Lord didn’t let them stay in that place. Jesus knew what they were experiencing. He knew what emotions they were dealing with and the choice that those emotions were leading them to make. And so, He comes and He walks among them. He enters into their frustration, enters into their pain and uncertainty. He begins to speak to them about the Scriptures, about the promises and the prophecies within the Word of God that pointed to Jesus, all in an effort to reassure them that He was, indeed, the Messiah. And finally, He breaks bread with them and their eyes are opened.
In that moment, their hearts begin to burn again within them. In other words, the Lord stirs the flame of hope back to life. He dispels the darkness of doubt and confusion. He restores the faith that they once had. He fills their hearts with a sense of joy. In that moment, these two disciples suddenly recognize Christ’s saving power; they recognize His love even in the darkness of the shadow of the Cross. They recognize who He is.
Do we allow the Lord to do the same for us?
So often, we, too, face the temptation of fear and discouragement when certain crosses come into our lives. In fact, every single one of us knows someone who has left the Church, just as these two disciples were leaving Jerusalem, because the Cross crushed their hope, and they became hopeless, discouraged, maybe even cynical and angry. Some of us may have even been tempted to do that at some point in our lives. But what prevents us from abandoning the Lord? What prevents us from giving into the hopelessness and discouragement we feel when the weight of the Cross seems too heavy to bear? The same thing that rescued these two sad disciples: an encounter with the Lord, a conversation with Jesus – prayer.
As Christians, prayer is our source of light and strength. It is what keeps us connected to the ultimate source of peace and joy. It is what gives us the grace to continue carrying our cross with the Lord. It is what allows us to unburden our hearts and minds to Jesus and gives Him the space to explain to our hearts where He is in the midst of the hardships and challenges that we face.
On the day that we heard our ordination would be delayed and not being sure when it would happen, I remember going to the chapel at the seminary frustrated, discouraged, upset, angry, and, frankly, hurt. I sat down in my pew and I absolutely let the Lord have it. I asked Him how He could take this away from me after putting in so much work, after looking forward to this one moment for years. I sat there with Him and I cried. And it was in that moment that the Lord reassured me that everything was going to be okay. He spoke to my heart in that moment, telling me: “I know you can’t see it right now, but I’ve got something much better planned. I’m just asking you to trust me.”
Can I say that encounter made my heart burn within me or filled me with joy? No, but it did give me peace. It restored a bit of my hope. It helped me get through the challenge. Ordination eventually did happen (obviously) and, even though it wasn’t as big of a celebration as we had hoped, it was better. It was more intimate. It actually ended up being more special. It changed my perspective and I was able to see it as a real gift.
Just like we see in our Gospel with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, just like the Lord showed me in this experience, He never abandons us. Even though we might be experiencing our worst nightmare, He is walking alongside us and caring for us. Sometimes, we just have to put in a little effort to recognize Him, to turn to Him, to see where He is in the moment.
Whatever hardship we might be facing, today, let’s ask the Lord to remind us of who He is and how He is working to console our hearts. He is the Risen Lord. He brings light to our darkness. Today, may He reveal that light to us and encourage us on our journey of faith.
Image: “Empty Tomb” by Lexi Laginess. Used under the Unsplash license.