ON THE JOURNEY – Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

April 23, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 2:14, 22-33
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
1 Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

Most of us can probably relate to the image of life as a journey. Whether we are young and looking down the road at what may be, or if we’re much further along and looking back at blessings and missteps, we can usually see ourselves on a sojourn where we meet unexpected turns that alter our route and perhaps even change our destination.

The two disciples we meet in today’s Gospel reading knew where they had come from and where they were going—or at least they thought they did. After experiencing shock, grief, and disappointment, they were leaving Jerusalem behind and heading to Emmaus, about seven miles away. Yet their immediate travel plans and their life journey would be changed forever by the encounter with a stranger.

That encounter and the life-changing events that accompanied it began with a simple act of hospitality. As they were walking along, “Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Lk 24:16). Unlike other appearances in which he bursts into a locked room, Jesus approaches the two disciples gently, without fanfare, and becomes their companion. He joins them amid their sadness and disappointment, and forms with them a community of people journeying together.

Isn’t this the journey into which all of us have been called through our baptism? Isn’t this what it means to be church—to walk with Jesus and his companions on the journey of life together? As we travel along, our hearts are burning within us and our minds gradually transformed by hearing and reflecting together on God’s Word. We gather at table where we take, bless, break, and share the bread of life in remembrance of the one who died and rose. Like the two disciples on the road, our eyes are opened to recognize him in that simple meal.

After their encounter with the risen one, the two disciples ran all the way back to Jerusalem to share the news of “what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). Their journey had taken a completely unexpected turn. They hurried back to that place of heartbreak and disappointment, now as bearers of good news.

Today’s Gospel reading tells a story that is reflected also in a description of life in the early community that Luke records later in the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). In the verses and chapters that follow, Luke portrays a vital life of communal sharing, praying together, breaking bread in homes, and welcoming others into the community (see Acts 2:43-47). The simple act of hospitality extended by two disciples on the road and extended in turn by Jesus at table became a pattern for the newly forming community of believers.

The experience of the two disciples on the road invites us to consider our own life’s journey. As we walk through each day, what are we talking about? What are the burdens, disappointments, or fears that leave us feeling sad or downhearted? Have we opened ourselves to communities where we can accompany one another, break open the Word of God, and recognize the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread?

As we have encountered the risen Christ in baptism, we are invited to stay with him as the journey continues—in the community of faith, in the Word of God, and in the breaking of the bread. We are likewise impelled to share our journey through witness and service of others, extending hospitality and welcome to every person.

A Hymn for Today: “Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow”

This hymn, based on today’s Gospel story, was commissioned for the twenty-fifth anniversary convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), held in Washington, D.C. in 2001. Originally titled “On Emmaus’ Journey,” it was written by Lutheran Pastor Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., who was Professor of Preaching at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and served as President from 1976 until 1989. Stuempfle was a prolific writer of hymns, especially of texts based on the Lectionary. Listen here to a hymn concertato (HOLY MANNA) by John Ferguson, or here to a hymn concertato (JEFFERSON) by Scott Hyslop. (For both examples, click on the audio icon in the preview box.)

Who are you who walk in sorrow
Down Emmaus’ barren road,
Hearts distraught and hope defeated,
Bent beneath grief’s crushing load?
Nameless mourners, we will join you,
We who also mourn our dead.
We have stood by graves unyielding,
Eaten death’s bare, bitter bread.

Who is this who joins our journey,
Walking with us stride by stride?
Unknown Stranger, can you fathom
Depths of grief for one who died?
Then the wonder! When we told you
How our dreams to dust had turned,
Then you opened wide the Scriptures
Till our hearts within us burned!

Who are you? Our eyes are opened
In the breaking of the bread—
Christ, the victim, now the victor
Living, risen from the dead!
Great Companion on our journey,
Still surprise us with your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus;
On our hearts your image trace!

Who are we who travel with you
On our way through life to death?
Women, men, the young, the aging,
Wakened by the Spirit’s breath!
At the font you claim and name us,
Born of water and the Word.
At the table still you feed us,
Host us as our Risen Lord!

Text: Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr., 1923-2007. © 2000 National Association of Pastoral Musicians, admin. by GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857

Image Credit: Breaking Bread, Christa Prima Seva Ashram, Pune, India

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to office@thehymnsociety.org and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.