We have reached the end of our Holy Week pilgrimage … Our journey home. The lesson this evening has us on the road again. What would you do? What would you do after having your hopes and dreams dashed? Your hero, leader, teacher or guide destroyed before your very eyes? Even now, there is more confusion. His tomb is reportedly empty. Some say he has been seen. “But who knows? It’s all so confusing and so improbable.” No, it is impossible. The dead don’t rise.
To those who saw and heard him, and followed him, they believed the redemption of Israel was at hand. They were all part of the Messianic story. But His death and the destruction of all that is good; no, it’s impossible. They did what was normal. They started towards their own homes. Home, being that place where at least they understood the wind, the seasons, the lake and the movement of fishes in the Sea of Galilee; home being familiar, normal, routine. “Home is the place where, when you have to go there/They have to take you in.” (Robert Frost, “Death of Hired Man”)
His name was Pascal, literally meaning the lamb. We met on the road to Santiago. He was a bit of an anomaly in that he was not sure there was a religious meaning or value to being on the road. But he had made this promise to God, though not being sure about God, when he was critically injured when in a car crash into his bicycle six months before. He reported, “I will say thank you in Santiago, if you let me walk again.” So here he was walking. His doctors said that he was paralyzed and would never walk again when admitted to hospital. For weeks nothing happened. He was hopeless. All at once he felt tingling in his limbs and started moving. After a time, he proceeded into physical therapy, learning how to walk again. The medical staff was amazed.
Now he was on the road, sidling up to me, he said, “I’ve heard from other peregrinos that you are a priest, so tell me about Jesus.” And there began a sporadic but intense conversation which ranged over the next 30 days. He would be two or three days ahead of me and then re- appear. After conversing intently he would wander off again. And so it went.
When I arrived, at last, in Santiago he found me sitting in a cafe on the street called the “the way of the Spirit,” the meaning not lost on me. He said, “I want to know who you know.” Not sure of what he meant I asked him to repeat the question: “I want to know who you know … You know, Jesus.” “Sure, you can know him and I believe you do,” I said and he admitted that it was true. “So I want to be baptized by you tonight.” Startled, I asked him why. “Because everyone knows that when you are talking about Jesus, he’s right there with you. In fact, some of us agree that it is really him talking. If you know him that well and baptism is a sign that I have come to accept him, then it is what is required to complete the relationship. So you must baptize me,” he added.
As Jesus’ followers walked to Emmaus, he came right up alongside them. Whether it was their disillusionment that kept their eyes blinded, or the depth of grief in their hearts, or the sheer fact that he was transformed by the Resurrection; it is hard to say. They engaged him in their conversation, a conversation about the wonderful and horrific events of the past week.
Gently chiding, perhaps, he responded as the Church will always respond: Telling the age-old story from the sacred texts, in this case from the Prophets, of how the Messiah would suffer and die. Still not believing, but fascinated by the acuity of his teaching, they listened harder. Did their hearts pound faster at the sound of his voice, or to the force of his words? We know not, but still they could not allow themselves to believe that it was really Jesus. So they discussed and observed and perhaps even hoped a bit that maybe … The story wasn’t over.
As evening was approaching they beckoned him to join in a light meal. They moved from being wrapped in their own grief opening their lives enough to share a meal with each other and with this stranger. For a brief moment, they moved out of the isolation of their grief to share their lives at table. It happens for someone this way every time we gather.
Was it now they knew who it was? It doesn’t seem so from the story, but who knows? What did happen when they sat at table was that He blessed and broke the bread; blessed and poured the wine. In that moment of blessing and breaking, blessing and pouring, they knew: This was Jesus! And in that moment He disappears from their eyes!
Then the re-collection begins; “Didn’t our hearts burn?”
He comes to the grieving and brokenhearted. He comes to the fearful and oppressed. He comes among us as one to whom our eyes have often been blinded. So how will we know him? How will we recognize that God is doing something new and wonderful in our lives?
May I suggest some questions that can guide us to making an Easter discipline and hold the wonder of this day?
- Remember and share who is the most influential person in your life.
- Remember and share when you first believed in God, in life, or in anything at all.
- Remember and share when you disappointed yourself and the one (or ones) who loved you.
- Remember and share what it is like to be in love.
Earlier today when we re-affirmed our baptismal vows, we recalled the times of our faithfulness and faithlessness; the shame and the sorrow; the love and the passion—And offered it all before God, who will restore us to something of great value.
When midnight came, there was Pascal with a whole crowd of peregrines (pilgrims) from the Camino at the Great Fountain. Carrying candles and singing, they stood around us while I asked him to renounce evil, and pledge his loyalty to the Christian community. Three times I poured water in the name of the God the Creator, Christ the Redeemer, and the HolySpirit, the Sustainer. Anointing him with holy oil, secured from one of the priests in the Cathedral, I made the sign of the cross on his forehead sealing him as Christ’s own forever. Shaking with delight in the full thrall of exuberance, everyone threw water from the fountain on one another in what became a rollicking water fight in Cathedral Plaza.
At the Pilgrim’s Mass the next day, there was Pascal, receiving his first Eucharist as a baptized Christian. On the way back to his seat, he leaned over to me and said, “Thank you. You know, Jesus was with us last night, throwing water as much as you were. Now I know him. I am grateful you got out of the way for me to talk with him on the road. You have modeled how we all need to get out of the way. Thank you.”
And with that he disappeared into the crowd in the Cathedral. I never saw him again. But I discovered that a longtime prayer was finally answered; that I could be transparent enough to get out of the way for others to see Jesus. Pascal was on a journey of thanksgiving; instead he found the faith for which he longed and had a direct experience of the living Christ. Isn’t that what many of us are seeking?
The wonder of the Resurrection on this day is that the Christ, who is unearthed today, is the one unearthed in my soul. The Living God who conquers death today, is the God who calls each of us into the heaven or hell of our personal lives, and into the life of a community built on his body and his blood. The rooted-ness of this mystery is in the claim that it makes upon my life and yours and how and why each of us will appropriate it.
The Spirit is blowing through us calling us into something new. We—pilgrims all—have been caught in the drama of renewing his life by renewing ours. Tomorrow we go to the four winds and scatter again to our separate ministries and callings. But for now we are reminded that we can see him in the breaking of the bread, and we can hear him in the Word. And touch him by touching one another.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!