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Third Sunday of Easter
during the coronavirus pandemic
April 26, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily
(homily begins at 31:00)

     Put yourself in the shoes of those two downhearted disciples of Jesus who decided, late on that first Easter day, that it was time to get out of Jerusalem and head for home, that there was no point for them to stay there any longer. Jerusalem, after all, was a big, impersonal place – intimidating to small town people like them. It had had one drawing card for them.  Only one: their friend - this dynamic, spell-binding, courageous, compassionate teacher, this wonder-worker from Galilee who had raised their hopes so high. They had allowed themselves to hope and to dream that the long-awaited Messiah had finally come and that Israel would at last be set free.

     Those hopes and dreams had now been dashed to bits in a cruel and conclusive way three days earlier on the hill of Calvary. The final curtain had dropped: now it was time to go home, to put Jerusalem behind. It was also time to put behind all those foolish hopes. Nothing had changed. Nothing ever would.  We had hoped,” they found themselves saying. Are there any more pathetic words in all of the scriptures?

     We shouldn’t find it difficult to identify with those two disciples. Don’t we, at times, find ourselves among the ranks of those who “had hoped” - the ranks of the downhearted and disillusioned?  Don’t we spend a good deal of time and energy looking over our shoulders at what was or might have been?  And is it surprising that we should?  So much of what happens in our lives and in our world prompts us to think this way.

     Think back for a moment to Easter time of last year. I know, after all that has happened these last two months, Easter a year ago might as well have been another century! But, if you can, think back for a moment. What were your hopes then? Your hopes for yourselves, your hopes for your families, your hopes for our world, our Church?  How many of them have been realized? Are you happier than you were back then?  Holier?  More generous?  More loving?  And what about your family?  Is your family more closely-knit, more caring, more loving, more supportive? After this lengthy lockdown, I suspect the answer to that could go either way (!), although many of you have told me about how much you have appreciated more family time. But maybe not all of you.

     And, then, what of our world? The pandemic is one thing – one truly frightening thing - but there’s more, far more. Think of the appalling levels of poverty around the world; think of the millions forced to flee their homelands because of violence and inhuman living conditions, only to come up against walls of indifference and exclusion. Think, too, of never-ending wars; think of the callous disregard for each and every human life, beginning in the womb, and think of the devastating things we continue to do to this planet of ours.

     And then there’s our Church. There is joy and hope in this local Church with our new archbishop; joy and hope, too, in the inspired leadership of Pope Francis, but that joy and hope are not universal because Pope Francis not only has his critics, he has some real opposition to just about everything he stands for.

     So, my friends, it’s not hard to align ourselves with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus; to number ourselves among those who “had hoped.”  But the story of those two disciples who walked with Jesus, without knowing it was Jesus, is meant to lead us away from such hopelessness.  It’s a story that takes us right where we are – in the midst of our journey of life with more than its share of fears and failings, more than its share of detours and disappointments; a journey that doesn’t let us see around the next bend in the road.  But my friends, it is also a journey that we make in some pretty remarkable company.

     Jesus is our unexpected, and often unrecognized, companion on the journey.  He walks along with us as he did with those two downhearted disciples.  He questions us as he did them and sometimes he gently chides us.  Often, he hides his face from us until we’re sure he’s left us for good.  But through it all, he teaches us, good Master that he is, he teaches us to look deeper, to go deeper, to find the place where trust lives, to detect in the seeming disconnected dots of our days a pattern – a story line that, no matter how troubling or tragic, leads toward the light.  And so we begin to see old things in new ways: to view hopeless situations as untried opportunities, enemies as potential friends.

     And, most wonderful of all, as evening draws near and the light begins to dim and fade, he accepts our invitation to come and stay with us – to sit with us at table and to share with us whatever it is we put before him: the bread of our sorrow, the wine of our joy. And then our eyes begin to open and we begin to get it: we come to recognize the hidden yet constant companion of our journey who is always with us but never more so than when we take the Bread and break it in his memory, break it right in the midst of our broken lives, our broken world.

     My friends in Christ, we gather on this third of the Easter Sundays only too aware of who we are.  We believe, yes, but we question and doubt; we hope, but all too quickly we lose hope; we love, but not very well.  And we lose our way so very quickly.  But we must not lose heart.  We must not. As we join together once again around the Lord’s table for this Eucharist – even if it’s only virtually - we must allow our tired and cynical eyes to be opened up, our broken hearts to be healed.  If we do, and when we do, we will come to see him and know him and love him as never before in the Breaking of the Bread!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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