by Sr. Doreen, SSJD
Propers: Acts 2: 14a, 36-41; Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1: 17-23; Luke 24: 13-35
Easter 3 – within the Great Fifty Days! Each year as we walk through the scriptures of Lent and Holy Week, and we arrive at Easter, I am always surprised! It is a surprise that invites or even sometimes shocks me into waking up – a challenge to open my eyes – and to see that the world that I fell asleep in on Holy Saturday night no longer exists! Everything is changed! All things have been made new! It is the gift of a new beginning! That is what we sing, that is what we believe, that is what we hope for. Each year I ask the same question “how will I learn to walk in the new reality that Easter dawn has opened up this year?”
This has been a particularly poignant question this year, since Easter dawned on a world that is very different, after a Lent and Holy Week that were very different. Perhaps the words of Queen Elizabeth mark a pause: “The discovery of the Risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose, and we can take heart from this … as dark as death (and grief) may be, light and life are greater. May the living flame of Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.”
And then we are confronted by the horrible mass murder – the rampage of one person – in Nova Scotia, and I am sure you, like myself, are left in the shock of not being able to comprehend such a terrible act. With our Primate, Linda, I am sure we all echo her words that in this “unexplainable tragedy we cry to God and know God cries with us. And that “we pray for healing for our broken world in which such evil can find a home in a human heart and be so destructive.”
It is within the experience of these two situations that we come to the third Sunday of Easter and the gospel story of Cleopas and his partner, and ourselves, on the road to Emmaus. What does this mean for us as we join Cleopas and his unnamed partner on the road of broken dreams on route to Emmaus when the very embodiment of our expectations for those dreams and our liberation is walking right beside us … and when their eyes, my eyes, our eyes, are kept from recognizing Jesus.
This is a wonderful human story of two persons with all their hopes gone. Why didn’t Cleopas and his unnamed partner simply catch on? These were two people, like ourselves, who had heard Jesus speak to them / heard Jesus words often enough that surely they would have recognized Jesus on the seven mile walk to Emmaus. The story is clear that it wasn’t Jesus appearance (his risen self) that was the problem but ‘that their eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus’. What blinds them from recognizing Jesus? What kind of signals do we miss? Why is it that we so often do not recognize God who accompanies us on the way?
It is the story of those who have bet their lives on the wrong kind Messiah, a Messiah who would fulfill their expectations, their own agendas, and so are confused with all the events of Holy Week. As a result, these two hit the road and head to Emmaus. They, like the other disciples head out, head back to their fishing nets, tax offices, jobs, back to our missed appointments, our latest projects, our meetings, our planning … back to familiar territory, back to the way things were before Jesus interrupted their lives.
They had hoped … hope is now gone: its about us, which of us hasn’t experienced our own Emmaus walk, our own efforts to solve our bewildering dilemmas towards faith and hope? Confusing journeys out of sickness, difficult adjustments to growing physical limitations, bewildering questions about difficult or failed relationships, sadness and disappointments in closing a beloved branch house, challenges of an unknown future … each of us could list our own Emmaus walk and our struggle with questions, our living with paradox and contradiction, as we seek to recognize and have a closer walk with Jesus on the journey of life. It is our doubts and our questions that compel us onward in our journeys, that call us to our own individual Emmaus journeys: Fredrick Buechner says “doubts are the ants in the pants of faith, they keep it alive and moving.” And out of my heart the words of the psalm … “I love you, God, for you have heard my voice and my cry for mercy, you have listened to me …”
One of the clearer discoveries this year for me with this story of the Road to Emmaus was the recognition that Luke’s account of this story highlights that the spotlight in the story was not upon Cleopas and his partner … that the spotlight was not upon me .. but upon Jesus.
We read in verse 15 that Jesus simply came near and went with them. Here was Jesus fresh from death out on a dusty road still seeking and saving the lost! Jesus fresh from death on that first day greeting the women, appearing to the disciples, making breakfast on the beach, walking on the dusty road to Emmaus. What activity! O awesome mystery! God is so eager to meet us and greet us where ever we are – as Connie said on Easter day – after the angels gave the message to the women, Jesus – God can’t wait to speak to them also! God can’t wait … God can’t wait for the younger son coming home destitute, but seeing him far off, runs to meet him with a loving embrace! My Sisters, doesn’t this bring a smile to your heart? It does to mine! God can’t wait! God is so anxious to reach out to us, to love us! What activity! O awesome mystery! That for my sake such love outpouring!
But what is also very noticeable in this and in other appearances of Jesus, Jesus comes into the midst of our questions, our confusion, not with fanfare – not with earthquake, fire, or wind – but in the sheer ordinariness, the gentle friendship of being an alongsider. O awesome mystery! O overwhelming love! God is an Alongsider! Today perhaps I should say a Companion, but I do like the way ‘God is an Alongsider’ resonates in my soul!
As we listen to the stories of Jesus’ return to life over these weeks this is the one striking element they all have in common – always alongside in the midst: in the midst of real life and the real questions life asks. Luke places Jesus with us on the road of our confusion, our tiredness, our frustrations, our discouragement, our anger, our cynicism, when every ounce of hope has been wrung out of us, and his presence alone is all we have left. And even then we often don’t really know who he is (we don’t recognize him when he comes to us). How important it is that we let Jesus talk to us as we journey as Cleopas and his partner did. And so it is that over and over again in the daily recitation of the Divine office, the psalms, the prayers, the scripture readings … day in and day out, year after year, the same psalms, the same scripture passages, the same hymns … Jesus talks to us, as an Alongsider, and his words can begin, to gradually peel away the calluses on weary questioning hearts. O awesome mystery!
Can we hear the gentle smile in the words of Jesus – “Oh how foolish you are …” In other words – where have you been all your life? What bible have you been reading? Don’t you know your own story? And so on … those words of Jesus heard and said over and over again together can begin to illuminate my own bewilderment. Jesus opens to them the scriptures … and their hearts burn within them … and how often have I known my heart burn within me, that deep longing in the midst of my own Emmaus journeys: a longing that I now recognize I have because of God’s deep longing for me. How eager our Alongsider God is for us on our Emmaus journeys. Again from the psalm “I love you, God, for you have heard my voice and my cry for mercy, you have listened to me. I will call on you all the days of my life.”
And so when they come to their journeys end they ask Jesus to stay with them, and he breaks bread with them, and they recognize him. How important this sentence is … so when they come to their journeys end … it is when we are faithful to the long haul of an Emmaus journey that we meet and know Jesus in some new and mysterious way. We pray .. it is not the beginning but the continuing of the same until it is thoroughly finished … we may pause on an Emmaus journey, but as Luke in this gospel story points out, it is important to continue to the journeys end.
They recognize Jesus, and then he vanishes: a moment of recognition, just long enough to surprise, to remind, to reassure, to release a vision and energy for a lifetime. O my Sisters, after what seems like a life time of saying “How long O Lord, how long” … to catch but a glimpse of Love: I wish Jesus to stay longer! I want to hang on to the moment like a long string of nows! We may long for permanence yet whatever faith is it cannot be chronic certainty! We cannot contain God, must not shape God in our own image or enlist God to support our own agendas!
“I love you, God, for you have heard my voice and my cry for mercy, you have listened to me. I will call on you all the days of my life.” For myself, it is a question: “how might I live with both familiarity and mystery, with recognition and doubt?”
I’d like to tell you a story that was passed on to me, you may have this story before: “Once a little boy was trying to open a flower bud. Under his persistent efforts the blossom fell apart in his hands. In exasperation he looked up at his mother and asked, “why does the bud fall apart when I try to open it, but when God opens it, the flower is beautiful?” Shocked by his profundity, his mother was speechless. Soon, however, the child exclaimed eagerly, “Oh I know! When God opens the flower, he opens it up from the inside.”
So on the road to Emmaus perhaps it is when we let go of trying to solve things from the outside, of trying to make everything and ourselves and others fit into answers or tidy definitions and boxes – and instead move into the inner space of unknowing (of living the questions, the paradoxes, the contradictions) that we allow real transformation, real knowing take place. And transformation is God’s promise to us. As it says in the reading from Acts: “ For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, for everyone …”
This Easter story of the Road to Emmaus speaks to me about Easter Faith: wonder and surprise, risk and trust, voluntary vulnerability, contentment with limits of trust and glimpses of glory. And Jesus makes himself known in the breaking of bread – wherever that happens, and with whatever that bread may be – as in the reading from the letter of Peter “Your faith and hope then are centered in God. … therefore love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew … through the living and enduring word of God.”
People recognized the early Christians by “ Look at them how love one another”. That is where the miracle of the real presence happens. There our deep longings find that glimpse of love! There one Emmaus journey ends, and yet another begins.
And on the Emmaus road and at the end of the journey my heart takes up the song of the psalm “I love you, God, for you have heard my voice and my cry for mercy, you have listened to me. I will call on you all the days of my life.” And “I will fulfill my vows to you in the presence of all your people.” We walk the Emmaus road not alone for ourselves – but also for each other and for the world. Indeed we are called to fulfill our vows to God in the presence of all of God’s people.
Lord of the gathering feast, you walk with us on the shadowed road: burn our hearts with Scripture’s open flame; unveil our darkened eyes as bread is torn and shared, and from the broken fragments bless a people for yourself –
Joyce Rupp asks a question at the end of a meditation on Easter Day – “How will people on the road of life (on their Emmaus journeys) recognize the Risen Christ in me, in us?”