This morning at Mass we heard the story of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). As we listened the Gospel being proclaimed, I remembered reflecting on this story after Grandpa died. Grandpa loved to travel, especially to drive on a road trip. Grandma and he spent many years snow-birding in Tucson, and each year Grandpa would drive the van across the country.
A few of my favorite memories of Grandpa are times that I was able to travel with him. One example was a road trip with Grandpa and my brother. Grandpa gave us the choice of going to the Air Force Museum in Dayton or the Ohio State Fair in Columbus. We chose the museum and spent the day there. Then on the way home Grandpa couldn’t help but take us to the Ohio State Fair anyways, so we got to do both.
Another year, after our family vacation in the Smoky Mountains, when the rest of the family left and raced home as fast as possible to start unpacking, Grandpa brought Grandma, my sister, my cousin, and I on a scenic route back with stops to see the New River Gorge Bridge and the West Virginia state capital building. I’ve forgotten most of the drives home from vacations, but that trip home I will remember forever.
As I reflected after Grandpa's death, I reflected on these journeys, and I considered some of the biblical road trips we find in Scripture. The story of the disciples traveling to Emmaus is a not a story about reaching a destination, but a story about the journey. The disciples took time to ponder, to reflect, and to discuss as they were journeying. A well-travelled person is not simply someone who accumulated a lot of frequent flyer miles, but someone who has taken time to listen, to observe, and to learn from what he has seen. I think this is how Grandpa travelled. He was quicker to listen than to speak. He would not rush down the highway, but he would watch the world go by and enjoy the experience of seeing God’s creation.
As I reflected further on the road trip to Emmaus, I realized it also provides us with a model for how to mourn the loss of our loved ones in our domestic churches. I recognized that the disciples weren’t simply out for a Sunday morning stroll when the story begins. Their dear friend had just died, and they were grieving… together. One disciple did not mourn alone. The disciples gathered to mourn together, just as we gathered to mourn together after Grandpa died.
As the conversation unfolds, they shared stories about their friend who they had lost. Beginning with the stories of his final days, but then continuing to the other stories of his life. I imagine that they talked about the joyful experiences, what they had learned from him, and how he had impacted their lives. And they put the story of his life in the context of the story of Moses and all the prophets. Because his story is a part of the story. The story of God’s action in this world has changed Grandpa’s story, and Grandpa is a part of God’s ongoing story. Grandpa is who he is because of his relationship with Christ. Just as the disciples shared stories of their dear friend’s life, we shared stories of Grandpa’s life after he died. This is a beautiful way to celebrate the life of someone we love.
Finally, the disciples encountered the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. They show us that as we grieve, we turn to the sacraments. When we gathered for Grandpa’s funeral, we sprinkled holy water and covered the casket in a white cloth to remind us of his Baptism and we celebrated Mass together. In the Eucharist, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. The disciples would realize that we who die with Christ will also rise with Christ. For those who believe in his love, death is not the end. As we receive Communion, we are united to Christ and to everyone in the Communion of Saints who are also united with Christ. In the Eucharist, we are in communion with Grandpa and with all of our family and friends in heaven.
Today I am remembering that as we travel through God's creation or as we enjoy the sunshine as winter turns to spring, we should take time to take in the Beauty all around us. And I am remembering that when we must say goodbye to those we love in our domestic churches, then like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we can gather together in community with those we love, share stores of how they touched our lives, and we can celebrate the sacraments with the confidence that we will be united with them again in the Communion of Saints.