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Dear Friends in Christ,

Remember the movie, “Groundhog Day?” Bill Murry lives the same day over and over and over and over. Doesn’t our present reality seem like that! I saw a news clip. Mom asked a child, “Today is Saturday, what is tomorrow?” He replied, “Quarantine day!” Every day is lockdown day. It can be a challenge during these days of new and odd routines to find a meaningful pattern for our existence.

In the Gospel today, we find ourselves on Easter Sunday… again! “That very day, the first day of the week,” Luke tells us. For three Sundays now we have been “stuck” on Easter Sunday - our own version of liturgical groundhog day. Yet the richness of Easter is the reason why we are still “here” on Easter Sunday, trying to soak in the awesomeness of this first new day.

The Road to Emmaus is the road away from Jerusalem. These guys are heading home, away from the epicenter of our redemption. Looking downcast, they believe the new teaching and new form of existence Jesus proposed would fade into the shadows as Jesus’ body grew cold in the tomb. These men had even heard that Jesus was alive: “Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.” Yet they did not believe, or their hearts were not moved in the conviction that the new reality would continue.

But Jesus’ path leads to Jerusalem. Luke remarks, “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51) This resolute determination echoes words from Isaiah: “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame” (Isa 50:7). And as disciples of the Lord, our paths journey to Jerusalem as well. We are repeatedly invited to become disciples, which means followers, those who walk in the footsteps of their Master. “Follow me,” Jesus encourages again and again. This imperative is an invitation to Jerusalem, meaning to Calvary and to the empty tomb. It is a calling to the whole, to journey where our Lord has gone. “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.”

Yet these disciples are headed away from the action, away from the centrality of their new existence, despite evidence that Jesus is alive! And so while Jesus could have let them sulk in their depression and malaise, instead He accompanies them. He comes among them, gently, silently at first. Jesus meets them on the way, and listens, then teaches and eventually turns them back around to that new and purposeful life which first captivated their attention.

When do the disciples finally recognize Jesus? “It happened that, while he was with them at the table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” For Luke, the key term is “the breaking of the bread,” which in modern parlance we would call the Eucharist. Even the discussion on the road and the deeply eucharistic overtones of the meal follow the same pattern as our Catholic Mass. First the Liturgy of the Word, breaking open and studying the Word of God. Second, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which culminates in the reception of Holy Communion. Christ our Lord heals the spiritual blindness with the holy Eucharist. Feeding them with Himself, they come to their senses and Jesus disappears from their sight.

A petition has been circulating to encourage Governor Murphy to permit limited return to worship. Outdoor Mass, or car Masses, or Masses inside with limited numbers of healthy people. It caused a bit of a stir on Facebook. I posted the petition because I believe that our deepest hungers and needs are spiritual, and that the Eucharist is the greatest cure for what ails humanity. Worshipping at home is not the same. Spiritual communion - while good - is not the same. I understand the Eucharist to be the food by which we truly live.

I do not advocate for just returning to a normal Sunday schedule, but I do think in the weeks ahead we need to plan and prepare for reopening our churches, and to think of them as essential. They are not movie theatres or malls or restaurants. Worship is essential to our spiritual well being. There is enough suffering during this pandemic. To be deprived of our greatest nourishment should last for the shortest duration necessary. Yet I do not have the confidence that our state leaders see things that way. So, after carefully reading the petition, I would invite you to consider signing.

Gathering around the altar for the breaking of the bread, our existence comes into sharp focus. We can see what ails us and we can invite Jesus to heal, nourish and sustain us. We must not only care for our physical health but also our spiritual health.

Perhaps these disciples were headed home because they were afraid of physical death, fearful of meeting the same end as Jesus. Yet after the breaking of the bread, they hustle back to Jerusalem by night - in the dark! - in order to make this encounter known. They share with the Apostles how Jesus nourished them. And their lives were never the same again.

Whenever we can gather together again for Holy Eucharist, may each and every reception of our divine Lord be life-changing. May this time of eucharistic fasting really make us hunger for our true and living bread!

I am praying for you daily at the altar, as I partake of the Eucharist alone, or with a few people needed to for worship. Please pray for me. I lift up your intention to our Father. Please lift up my intentions as well. We are all journeying together. Peter tells his people today, “Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning.” Until we gather for the breaking of the bread, I pray your existence is full of reverence and the light of Christ!

May God bless you, and may Mary keep you wrapped in her protective mantle!

Fr. Joel Wilson

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