Easter, we all know, from our years of Catholic education and other religious training, is the center piece of our Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus is the vessel that holds our hope for life after this life. What happened on that first Easter morn names as truth Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of God—because he rose from the dead into new life, we know that as his followers; we will rise one day too! What that truly means, we don’t know, but we have hope! But what of today—what does Jesus’ resurrection mean to us today—now? Last week, you will recall that we spent some time considering what needs to be “resurrected” in us for the resurrection to be complete.
It would seem from today’s Scriptures that it is something that we will need to grapple with now and throughout our lives. One of the themes clearly sketched out in these readings is that of “being on a journey.” And as in all things where Jesus plays a part; we see that there are several layers of meaning.
The disciples returning from Jerusalem after the Passover, on their way to Emmaus, were on a journey—a physical journey home. Jesus joins them and we soon discover that it is more than just a journey to their physical, earthly home. Jesus, seemingly a stranger, is reflecting with them on the story of the past few days. Just the fact that they did not recognize him says something to us about the fact that Jesus had changed in some way. They speak later about how their “hearts burned” within them as they remembered his words, how he made all the connections to the prophecies of earlier times and opened their eyes to the reality that was in fact fulfilled in Jesus—that he was the Messiah. A good reflection for us this week might be to consider which of Jesus’ words cause our hearts “to burn” –perhaps are the light that shines in our darkness and shows us the way to go.
These disciples soon learned that they were on a life-journey to their God and that they would walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the Christ to get there. They learned in the breaking of the bread who in fact it was who was speaking to them, interpreting the events of the past few days. Because they were able to open their hearts to this apparent “stranger” and profess their belief in Jesus as the true Messiah, Jesus was able to open a place in them in order that they could see more. In the breaking of the bread— a simple, physical, daily action; Jesus was able to break into their lives in a new way because of their faith.
The account from Luke used today doesn’t include the encounter with Mary of Magdala that we find in John’s account, but for the sake of continuity; I think it is important that we mention it here. In John’s account, Mary of Magdala, just as the disciples traveling to Emmaus, doesn’t recognize him—at first. You will recall that when Jesus finds a place to break into her life through something that she would remember, she does recognize him. Jesus says her name, the way only he would say it, “Mary,” and she then knows him. Just as the disciples traveling to Emmaus recognized Jesus in an event they had seen him do many times, the breaking of the bread; Mary recognizes him as her teacher, when he says her name.
Friends, each of us will find Jesus, our brother, in the same way—in our everyday lives. We will need, of course, to live with our eyes, ears and hearts open, to see, hear and experience the ways that Jesus will attempt to break into our lives through our brothers and sisters in this world, many of whom are in great need of our help and understanding.
John Smith, a local musician and song writer has a beautiful ballad entitled, Love’s Not Through With Me Yet, which I happened to be listening to this past week. It speaks well to this idea. He tells us to journey through our lives with open eyes and hearts—to realize that “love” doesn’t take two, because love is a gift we give to ourselves. In other words, whether we love or not doesn’t depend on whether someone returns the love. Poetically, he continues asking his hearers, “Can you love without needing? And later, “Can you love without bleeding?” If so, then love isn’t through with you yet!
We have talked about this many times here—our main concern in our life following Jesus is to love—to see that God may have sent us this person we consider a “thorn in our side” to teach us something about love that we still need to know.
I don’t know if any of you watch the Father Brown series on PBS? The series is basically about a country priest in an English setting who displays a good deal of morality which guides his ministry. He is somewhat of a sleuth and every episode usually includes a murder or two and Father Brown is instrumental in discovering, “who dun it!”
He has a busy-body housekeeper, Mrs. McCarthy, whom he lives with in a platonic relationship and she takes care of his physical needs for food, clean clothes and house and in fact runs as much of his life as she can get away with!
On a recent episode, a smelly, unkempt, ill-mannered “bum” is found sleeping in the confessional when Mrs. McCarthy comes to avail herself to the sacrament. She screams, Father appears and the “relationship” begins as Father offers the man a meal and shelter until he can get himself “on his feet,” so to speak. Mrs. McCarthy asks Father if he knows what he is doing—this man could be dangerous! Father Brown simply responds that we never know, “He could be Jesus in disguise.”
Well, the story winds itself out, interesting things happen and in the end; “the bum” disappears like Jesus in the Emmaus story once he is discovered. The piece I didn’t tell you is that the bum miraculously “saves the day” as the story concludes. And incidentally, this was the first episode I’ve watched that didn’t include a murder!—other better things were afoot!
Today’s readings show us that there will be surprises along our journey in life—the way we interpret God’s movement in our lives may not be the way it necessarily is. The disciples traveling to Emmaus admitted to “the stranger” who joined them, that they had expectations for Jesus that were unfulfilled—they had hoped that he would redeem Israel. Jesus did in fact redeem Israel, but in a way that these disciples were only now beginning to understand through Jesus’ interpretation of the Scriptures. Sometimes the redemption is about changing hearts and minds—growing them, in fact, as with Mrs. McCarthy.
If today’s gospel teaches us anything, it is that God will not appear as we think, but in ways that perhaps can open us up to that bigger reality, beyond ourselves and our singular needs. John Smith’s ballad again implores us to consider if we can love without needing—can our love be about the other?
Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; we were all given a path to follow. Our life truly is in God’s hands—guiding, instructing, showing us the way; loving and standing by us in the ups and downs of whatever life may bring us; laughing and crying with us, not taking control of our free will, but loving us enough to give us a human experience, and waiting patiently to one day, take us home.
The readings today show us that we will always have to struggle with the inner meanings of events. God will come to us in our life situations to bring us to a greater truth. As the apostles, men and women alike, struggled to understand what Jesus was truly to mean to them; they came to see as Peter proclaims today in his Pentecost speech in Acts and also in the 2nd reading from 1 Peter, that Jesus’ coming among us, was always in God’s plan. He is talking to his Jewish neighbors and friends in the 1st reading, challenging them to see that the Scriptures they had read and believed all their lives were fulfilled in Jesus.
Going forward, we can renew within ourselves once again during this Easter season, the promise made for us at our baptisms, which we reaffirmed at our confirmations, that we as Jesus’ followers will journey with him throughout our lives, knowing and believing that he will show us the right paths to follow, promising anew to walk with eyes and hearts open to see Jesus in all that we meet and together we each will help the other on our journey home, proving as John Smith says, “Love isn’t through with us yet!”
The Easter Season invites us to ask the question, “What needs to be resurrected within me this year? What is my piece to do that no one else can do? My friends, may we each be blessed as we make this journey together.