After all the pain and sorrow Jesus went through before his earthly death, it’s delightful to see him having a bit of fun with his disciples in this Sunday’s gospel reading. That’s how I read it anyway. He’s toying with them as they walk along the road to Emmaus. He knows they love him and they miss him, but he decides to do what we’ve seen many military veterans do after a long tour of duty and they’re finally given leave to be with their families.
We’ve seen those surprise reunions on the nightly news, where a home-coming mom or dad shows up at their kids’ school during a general assembly and they walk out on the gym floor from the locker room to reveal themselves in front of the hometown crowd, or, in a more intimate setting, they wear a disguise and then do a dramatic mask removal to show the kids and/or their spouse that their loved one has returned after a drawn-out, painful absence. That’s what Jesus does in today’s gospel reading from Luke (lk 24:13-35). But he’s testing as well as teasing.
“While they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him,” Luke writes. “He asked them, ‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’ And he replied to them, ‘What sort of things?’
Jesus plays dumb as he listens to them explain how their master was taken from them. The Big Reveal comes at supper when he breaks the bread as he did at the last supper. Then he vanishes. Or does he?
What we can all take comfort from in today’s readings is that the Holy Spirit who dwells in all of our loved ones is always with us—in many forms. The Spirit is the spark of love that forges our bonds to each other. In today’s first reading from Acts of the Apostles (acts 2:14, 22-33) Peter gives the people of Jerusalem a tongue-lashing for their treatment of Jesus but he also appeals to their allegiance to their spiritual father, David, whose divinely royal lineage Jesus shared.
“David foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ,” Peter said, “that neither was he abandoned to the netherworld nor did his flesh see corruption. God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured him forth, as you see and hear.”
All of us who have lost loved ones to physical death carry their spirit within us wherever we go. We are occasionally reminded of their presence when we hear a favorite song of theirs or smell a favorite food or watch a movie we enjoyed with them while they were with us physically. That feeling is their spirit with us—and that’s God with us.