They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of teh sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say. At last Aragorn stirred. ‘Gandalf’ he said. ‘Beyond all hope you return to us in our need! What veil was over my sight?’
This text is, of course, not from the Gospel, or even the best book in the world, the bible. It comes from the second-best book in the world, The Lord of the Rings. The reason it is important for us is that the disciples in today’s Gospel are in a comparable situation: they have just lost their leader, someone far more powerful than Gandalf, the Lord Jesus. And just as Aragorn and Gimli and Legolas do not recognise their long-time friend Gandalf, neither do the disciples recognise Jesus: but of him, they saw nothing. Like us, they wonder if Jesus is risen, why can’t I see him?
There is a short answer and a long answer to this. The short answer is that the risen Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. As Peter reminds us in the first reading: Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand. The longer answer is that, because Jesus is there, he is also here: as Peter continues, he has received from the Father the Holy Spirit, who was promised, and what you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit. In other words, if we can’t recognise him here, it’s not his fault. It is ours.
Now we might say, “But in the Gospel they could at least see a person, but we can’t. If we did, we could believe.” But the reality is that seeing Jesus in his body would not help you: it would not make an iota of difference. Why? Partly because, like for anything else we see or have all the time, we would soon take it for granted. And partly because the real problem is not seeing with our eyes but not seeing with our heart. Today’s Gospel proves that: he was there visible in a body like ours – and still the disciples didn’t recognise him. As the text says: something prevented them from recognising him. Why not? Because the problem was not with their eyes but their heart This was the point Jesus was trying to make last week to Thomas and to us: Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. It doesn’t just mean that we who don’t see but believe get a blessing – it also means that our hearts are blessedly free: that while our senses detect things, the reality is we only see and recognise what we want to see, and what evil, our sin, does not prevent us from seeing. If our hearts are weighed down like those of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, then we don’t see Jesus.
This is the importance of mass each week. Why is Jesus recognised at the breaking of bread? It is because it is above all in the Eucharist that he opens our heart to see him everywhere else: he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him. It is in the Eucharist that he purifies our hearts with the fire of his love: Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? So let us in this Eucharist renounce the temptation to skip Sunday mass, and choose to put him first every week, to have our hearts purified and formed by he who is pure love. Amen.