As we continue to celebrate the greatest event in the history of humanity, the scriptures proclaim repeatedly-- just in case the reality of this astonishing truth is too much for us to comprehend-- that this Jesus, this Jesus, born into poverty, who lived in an obscure village called Nazareth, whose parentage was suspect, who died on a garbage heap on the outskirts of town, one among many criminals-- that this Jesus died and rose according to God’s preordained plan for our salvation.
God has raised him from the dead and he now sits at the right hand of the Creator in glory.
Easter ushers in the hope and promise of new life. After the cold and dark of winter, the sun now shines brightly on our cold bones giving them new life.
What was perceived as dead was only asleep and the greatest testimony to this miracle of faith is that if a barren tree can produce new life, surely, we will live for all eternity in his love. Death for once and for all has been conquered. Death, O death, where is thy sting?
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter and the eleven could release the chains of fear and stand boldly in the synagogue and on the streets of Jerusalem and proclaim this Jesus, who was crucified by the authorities through the power of God, has the last word for he is the Word made flesh--The Logos of God.
It is this Jesus, the Logos of God, the risen Lord, that the disciples meet on the road to Emmaus.
Let’s imagine the conversation between the two friends as they traveled to Emmaus.
“What really happened?” said the first disciple. We witnessed his condemnation, his beating, his crucifixion and death. He was cold and very much dead when they placed him in his mother’s arms…when they laid him in the tomb that Nicodemus provided.
We felt totally abandoned as we scurried and hid for fear that we would be next.
What had his life been all about? Why did we leave everything to follow him only to have it end on a hill at Calvary? Surely, God did not mean for it to end this way.
How do we make sense of the senseless? Were we duped? Made fools of?
And now some women want us to believe that his body is no longer in the tomb.
How are we expected to wrap our minds around all that has happened?
And yet, like these two disciples, it is when we are the most vulnerable, the most afraid, the most doubtful, that Jesus is revealed.
We can only imagine that the faith of these two very close friends of Jesus, who knew him intimately, had been shaken to the core. Life had thrown too many curves their way.
Sometimes, life can become too much for us to cope with. Why did God allow my child to die before she had a chance to experience life? Why is my body ravaged with cancer? Why have I lost all that I have worked for. . . home, my job, my savings?
Why has God forsaken me?
It is precisely in such moments that Jesus draws near. He will never, ever leave us alone. He is our lean-to post. He is the best GPS you can have on this journey.
The scriptures tell us that “Jesus himself drew near and walked with them but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”
How often have we failed to recognize him in the forgiveness of a friend, the hug of a child, a physician’s healing touch?
How many times in our self-absorption or pity-party have we been prevented from recognizing him?
And when he asks them, “What are you discussing?” they become incredulous at the insanity of the question. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place? Where have you been?”
But Jesus responds not defensively but with a question. “What things?”
Jesus never imposes. He knew that it was important that they be allowed to speak to the burning questions lodged in their hearts. We must be free to seek God if we are to ever find the God inside of us.
He knew that they would never recognize him if they were not able to speak into their truth, to drop the blinders of doubt from their hearts, to trust in the goodness of God even when it was not easily visible.
He invites them to speak from their hearts and they did. They spoke of their hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel only to see him die a shameful death.
It was only after they could speak their truth did he admonish them and remind them that as faithful sons of the Torah, as his followers, they should understand what the prophets had written and in understanding, their eyes would have been open. They would have understood that he was destined to suffer and die for as sin entered the world through one man—Adam-- one man must suffer and die to save the world.
We know that his words, his teachings, set their hearts on fire because they invited him to stay with them. Once we have met the savior, we want to remain in his presence, to have him stay with us.
It only took a simple invitation. They did not have to beg, or apologize. They simply had to ask and he stayed with them. Jesus always waits for the invitation.
And in the breaking of the bread their eyes were open and they recognized that this stranger in their midst was their Lord and Master.
That is the power of the Eucharist. In the breaking of what looks like a simple piece of bread we become aware of who we really are as members of his one body. Those who celebrate this mystery become a new creation. Just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus our eyes are open to our oneness with all of humanity, to pain and suffering, to the cry of the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, women, children, people of color, the sick and elderly, the imprisoned.
In the breaking of the bread our eyes are open; we recognize the risen Christ. But this Christ does not stay. He vanishes from our sight leaving us with the burning desire in our hearts to be Christ in a world that is crying out for healing.
The gospel tells us that they did not continue to Emmaus but rather got up and returned to Jerusalem. They knew where they needed to be and what they needed to do.
They returned to bear witness that in the breaking of the bread we are one with all of humanity. I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper. I am my brother and sister.
A powerful image of the breaking of the bread for me is seen in a mural of the Lasts Supper by Samuel Akainyah, that is painted on the chapel wall at St. Sabina Church in Chicago.
Around the table are men, women and children from every tribe and nation (some famous and others not), and in the center, is a very faint image of Jesus. When the mural was being painted, I asked the pastor, Father Michael Pfleger, why the image of Jesus was so faint. The answer I received from Father Pfleger is what I believe is at the heart of this encounter on the Road to Emmaus in the breaking of the bread; what I believe is at the heart of our Christian faith as Easter people, whose hearts are burning at the recognition of the Savior.
I believe it is why the disciples immediately returned to Jerusalem and why we are sent each, and every day to bear witness to the power of the risen Christ in our Jerusalem communities and throughout the world.
“Until everyone is welcome at the table, Jesus cannot come into the fullness of his glory.
As disciples of Christ, it is our baptismal and Eucharistic responsibility to bring Jesus into the fullness of his glory by standing in solidarity with a sister or brother who is struggling to reclaim his or her human dignity, by working to chip away at the walls of division and hatred; and to bear witness in the breaking of the bread that at the banquet of the Lord there is no room for hatred or division. We are all God’s children--Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindi, Buddhist, male or female, black, white, brown, or yellow, gay or straight. All are welcome.
Stay with us, Lord, for we have seen you in the breaking of the bread, and our hearts are burning within us, for you have the words of everlasting life.
Anita P. Baird, DHM
Sister Anita Baird, a native of Chicago, IL, is a member of the Religious Congregation of the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary having served as Regional Superior, Provincial Councilor, and most recently as United States Provincial.
She is a member of St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago where she has served in many different leadership roles including chair of the Spiritual Life Institute and as a member of the preaching staff.
In 1997 Sister Anita became the first African American to serve as Chief of Staff to the Archbishop of Chicago. In 2000, Cardinal Francis George appointed her the founding director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Racial Justice, which directed the Archdiocese’s initiatives to eradicate racism in its structures and institutions. Sister Anita also served as Cardinal George’s liaison for race relations to the city of Chicago.
Sister Anita has been recognized for her religious and community activism around the nation. In 2002 she gave the opening keynote address at the Ninth National Black Catholic Congress in Chicago. She is a past president of the National Black Sisters’ Conference and recipient of the organization’s Harriet Tubman “Moses of Her People” Award. Other honors include the NBC-5 Jefferson Award for outstanding community service, and the Fresh Spirit Award in recognition of her outstanding spiritual and community leadership in the city of Chicago.
In may 2013 Sister Anita was awarded an honorary Doctor of Minister (D. Min) degree from Catholic Theological Union in recognition of her outstanding contributions in the work for racial justice in the Church and the city of Chicago.
Sister Anita’s first love is preaching God’s Word, which she has done around the country for more than a decade. Her motto of faith is “Do whatever He tells you.” Sister Anita strives to live her life listening to God’s word, acting upon God’s word, and doing whatever God instructs her to do!
Sister Anita earned a B.A. in Sociology from DePaul University, and an M.A. in Theological Studies from Loyola University Chicago.