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April 30, 2017
Homily of the Most Reverend Larry Silva, Bishop of Honolulu
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A – [St. George Church, Waimanalo (Confirmation); Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Wahiawa Confirmation)]
What makes you downcast? Is it trouble in the family? Worry about a serious illness you or someone close to you has? Loss of a job, or not being able to find a job? Are you downcast about terrorism, or the wars and divisions that are part of the world right now? Are you downcast about the number of homeless in our community and about the scandal of so much poverty in the world? Do you wonder “Where is God is all of this? Has he abandoned us?”
This was the feeling these two disciples we heard about today had as they were leaving Jerusalem. They had put so much hope in Jesus. They saw him as the Messiah, as the one who would liberate Israel, as a miracle worker, and as someone who always spoke and lived the truth, no matter what. And they were downcast because this person in whom they had put so much trust was dead, killed as a criminal by his enemies. He was defeated and so were their dreams. But we see they had a surprising experience. Jesus, who had been crucified, was not only alive, but was walking right beside them. And although they were disciples of Jesus and had spent much time in his company, they walked seven miles (perhaps about two hours?) without recognizing him.
Jesus sometimes is very sly. He can be with us without our even being aware of it. And there he was on that road to Emmaus, alive and well. Perhaps he had disguised himself to play with the disciples a little bit. I recall seeing a beautiful painting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in a place where it is hardly noticed. It shows the encounter of the risen Jesus with Mary Magdalene outside the tomb. Remember that she thought he was the gardener? And in this painting, Jesus is dress in a dirty smock, with a floppy hat on his head and a hoe over his shoulder. She thought he was the gardener because he was playing with her and was actually dressed as a gardener. But ultimately she recognized him, as did the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
So it is that Jesus often disguises himself from us, though he is no less present to us than he was to the disciples on that road to Emmaus. Just as he did then, he still opens the Scriptures for us – which he just did as we heard the living Word of God proclaimed for us. And then when he sat down at table with his disciples, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it. Does he not do the same thing here at Mass, when he takes bread, blesses it in the great Eucharistic prayer, breaks it during the Lamb of God, and gives it to us in Communion – no longer as bread, but as his very Body and Blood? This is why it is so important to come to Mass every Sunday, to encounter the risen Lord. The very same risen Jesus who walked with his disciples, opening the Scriptures for them, is here with us, feeding us at the table of his Word. And though our eyes may be prevented from recognizing him, he is physically present in the Eucharist, giving himself to us always. He has not abandoned us. But it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that his presence with us is revealed to us; that our eyes, and minds, and hearts can be open enough to see him in this breaking of the bread.
But there is another point to this story that can be easily overlooked. Once the disciples’ hearts were set ablaze and they recognized him, they took up the mission of telling the good news to others. That very night, they ran back – seven miles! -- in the dark! – to tell the good news to the others. And what did they find? There was Jesus with them already. Filling them with joy in their darkness.
So it is that with the power of the Holy Spirit that is given to us, we are sent to go many miles to all the dark places of the earth to tell the good news that Jesus is alive; that he is still with us. Is someone in school being bullied? Is someone confused and tempted to resolve their confusion with drugs or alcohol? Do we know someone who is grieving because he or she has recently lost a loved one? Or someone who must take care of a very sick person and who is therefore at the end of his or her wits? Once we encounter the risen Christ in the power of his Spirit, we are sent to reach out to all of them so that the light, peace, and healing of Jesus can touch them. We are sent to bring them the joy of knowing that Jesus is always with us, even when it seems he has abandoned us, even when they are feeling most downcast. How can we accomplish such a lofty mission? Only by the power of the Holy Spirit who is given to us in a special way in the sacrament of Confirmation and who sends us out on a journey of sharing the good news of Jesus resurrection, no matter how far we must go or into what darkness we must proceed. It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes so that we can see and invite others to also walk with the risen Jesus.