Book: The Road to Emmaus and Beyond

  • Denis Blackledge SJ

As the author himself states on the back cover, this is a revision of his 1991 book on the Emmaus story, much updated now, and with an extension into Pentecost. Like Pope Francis, Denis McBride is focussed on the need for a community of "missionary disciples", as spoken of in Evangelii Gaudium #120. After his fine Introduction, the author has four longish chapters - he calls them Parts - and a beautifully worded Conclusion to his book, which knits together the whole.

Perhaps one of the best-known stories in the Gospels, it is important to remember that it is only in Luke that the Emmaus journey appears. It centres on two disciples walking away from Jerusalem, their hopes dashed by the crucifixion of Jesus: but it is the inner journey that counts. As McBride says: "Unknown to them, they are on a pilgrimage to a person, not a place: their flight from Jerusalem turns out to be a pilgrimage of the heart to meet the Lord." [p.10] Their situation of broken dreams echoes and parallels the felt experience of many people in the Church today, and many who have left the Church because what was once alive now seems dead. As he says again: "For many, the sacramental life of the Church has ceased to matter in a world of competing interests". [p.11] The two travellers to Emmaus are our contemporaries, but their whole story needs to be teased out, and that is exactly what Jesus does at their side as they walk along.

Jesus meets and greets them just as they are and feel, listens empathetically to their brokenness, and lets them tell him their story of all that has happened in Jerusalem. Then he begins to enlighten them by going through the Scriptures from Moses onwards through the prophets, and shows them how it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and so enter into glory. But it is only when they offer hospitality, and when Jesus breaks the bread, that their hearts, already burning as he explained the Scriptures, are finally opened. -which, in effect, is Eucharist, the breaking of the word and the breaking of the bread.

The structure of the Emmaus story begins with a coming together, then acknowledges personal defeat, goes on to hearing the old story anew, gathers round the table, breaks the bread, recognises Jesus as Lord: which ends in renewal of personal discipleship, and departure to share the new experience as good news. [p.15] So much so, that the two disciples go back to the place they were running from, Jerusalem, to share their good news. Their journey is the beginning of mission.

After part 1, where McBride shows the role of experience and interpretation, he then teases out the Emmaus experiencing of the risen Lord Jesus in part 2. In Part 3 he moves from experience to message, when the disciples are visited by the risen Lord Jesus, and given their final instructions before he leaves them and ascends to heaven. Then in Part 4 we move from the Gospel to the Acts, the second Book of Luke. He stresses the time of waiting for the Spirit, who will empower the disciples to spread the good news. They are to be a community of memory and Spirit. As he says: "Without the Spirit, the community can be reduced to a group of museum attendants guarding a lifeless treasure. There can be an excess of memory: praising the past as the only authentic time, holding on to the past without being open to what the Spirit is doing in the present. The community can lose the feel of the Spirit's presence now. When memory is embalmed, mission turns to dull obligation." [p.158]

If you pick up this book, be prepared to be stretched and challenged, as the author will take you out of your depth, and both broaden and deepen your understanding of your own meeting with the Risen Lord Jesus on your own Emmaus journey, and your waiting for the empowering of the Holy Spirit, so that you become a better "missionary disciple", bringing the joy of the Gospel to others.

The Road to Emmaus and Beyond. A Journey from Easter to Pentecost - Redemptorist Publications, by Denis McBride CSsR, pbk, 180 pages, 2018, £9.99

Tags: Denis McBride CSsR, Denis Blackledge SJ, Emmaus,

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