Sunday, 30 April 2017

Easter Week 3 Sunday (Year A)

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35

In one of the stories of the Hasidim (a sub-group within Judaism), a Rabbi once welcomed a passing stranger into his house, offering him supper and a bed for the night. After they had eaten, they chatted and the traveller, looking round, commented that the Rabbi had very few possessions. He replied that the traveller also seemed to have very few possessions. ‘But I am a traveller, on the road’, he said. To which the Rabbi replied ‘and so am I, a traveller, passing through here’.

On the road to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem, two of the disciples of Jesus meet a stranger travelling in the same direction. As they journey along they chat about the things that are on their minds. He interprets the texts of the Bible for them showing how the devastation of their hopes in Jerusalem was part of God’s plan all along, something foreseen in the prophecies of old, that the anointed messiah would enter into glory through suffering.

As they approach their destination the evening is drawing in and the day is far spent. The two disciples invite the stranger to have supper with them although Emmaus is not his final destination. Nevertheless he goes in to stay with them. As soon as he takes, blesses, breaks and gives them the bread their eyes are opened and they recognise him as Jesus. Up to that moment ‘something prevented them from recognising him’ – but in the same instant he vanishes out of their sight. ‘Did not our hearts burn within us,’ they say, ‘as he opened to us the scriptures?’ Immediately they set off through the night to return to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened.

All we need do to enter fully into this story and take it as a pattern for our lives is to think of ourselves as travellers. Like the Rabbi welcoming the stranger ‘so are we travellers, passing through here’. We can then see how each aspect of the journey to Emmaus can be identified in our own experience. Weighed down by anxiety or disappointment it can be difficult to recognise that Our Lord is with us at each step of the journey. We have many questions about God and His ways, particularly in relation to suffering and evil. We long to have the Scriptures interpreted for us and to see how God’s plan unfolds. We long for the truth of the Scriptures to be brought home to us in ways that will make our hearts burn.

The Hasidic Rabbi offers his guest a simple meal and the two disciples invite the stranger to join them for supper at Emmaus. As we travel along we are invited to the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the food for our journey or ‘viaticum’. The latter term is usually reserved for the dying person’s final reception of Holy Communion as he or she prepares to leave this world. But it can be applied to all celebrations of the Eucharist, in which we not only remember the past and are brought now into the presence of Christ, but in which we also anticipate the future towards which we journey.

At the Eucharist we hear the Word of God proclaimed. There we watch and listen as the bread is taken, blessed and broken for us. There we receive the bread and the cup in which we recognise him and proclaim his death. Christ, our food and medicine, strengthens us for the journey each day, leading us always deeper into the mystery of his love. In the Eucharist what is yet to come breaks in upon us, we are given ‘a pledge of future glory’ and allowed to glimpse what is beyond Emmaus, the new Jerusalem or heavenly kingdom which is Christ’s (and our) ultimate destination.

There is great freedom in remembering that we are travellers, passing through here. We can, for example, simplify our lives and reduce our baggage to a minimum. We can relate very differently to people we now recognise as companions on a journey. We are freed from the need to build up some lasting city or empire in this world. Such kingdoms and empires eventually come crashing down to join their dust with that of many predecessors. This applies also to religious kingdoms and empires. Jesus was killed precisely for teaching that he would replace the Temple in Jerusalem, that its religious meaning would be transferred to him. We must never lose the sense of being what the Second Vatican Council calls ‘a pilgrim people’.

Encouraged and renewed by their recognition of him in the breaking of the bread, the two disciples leave immediately for Jerusalem. They turn around, head back out into the night and carry to the rest of their group the message of the resurrection. These aspects too we can apply to ourselves as Christian believers: to turn back again to where our brothers and sisters are waiting, to be hopeful while journeying in the night of this world, to be joyful and confident in our conviction that Christ is risen. For ‘all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well … with the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling’ (Julian of Norwich as interpreted by T.S.Eliot).

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