When memory catches up with us
Luke 24, 13-35. The Emmaus pilgrims. 3rd Sunday of Easter
Should we understand resurrection as something ahead – a happening that is yet to come, not now, but only later, even much later? Is it hoping for what we don’t yet see? Is it a kind of confidence which says that never again will there be such a thing as "death" - even if we will inevitably die and it will be followed by a great silence?
We, our dominican community and his family, are standing in the cemetery around the open earth in which our dominican brother will be buried. We have said all the prayers. Two of his nephews are very close to the edge of the grave. When the coffin descends into the dark deep and while we can do nothing else but watch and be silent, they both passionately seek comfort from their father and mother: “Will we never ever see our uncle again"?
The short distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus will become a long journey for the two disciples, for everyone who is discouraged. For it takes time to recover from despair. It is not about a small setback. It is the great dream that has been shattered. What have we believed in all this time? Have we just lived an illusion, for an impossible hope? We were promised "All would become be new." And we did everything for that.
The truth one thought one lived for has gone up in smoke. Nothing but the empty grave remains, in silence.
"And we lived in the hope that he would save Israel." This sentence expresses the broken dream of everyone who has lived to the limit, and then suddenly has seen everything bursting apart. How many times we are witnesses of such a deep discouragment ? How many times we do not see a light, a perspective ? Things that do not last or lose their value: a love, family-life, a professional situation, relations with colleagues, a job. One might have expected the constant renewal of the Church including women becoming deacons and priests; or one hoped for a structural strenghtening of solidarity between rich and poor countries; or justice in elaborating equal rights; or that respect for nature and climate would be taken up more seriously; one may have promoted a more hospitable culture with respect for diversity and for marginalised people.. and in reality .. it all turns out completely different.
When the disappointment has become too heavy, the disciples quit and say: “Goodbye Jerusalem, city of my dreams. It is better to return to our own safe nest, to Emmaus, which means “at the source”. Maybe there we'll re-discover refreshing water ? When despair is so profound, one is really faced with death. There is no simple comfort, no easy word, to rediscover the meaning of life and happiness in day to day occupations.
Or maybe there is ? Didn’t we answer death from our birthday on ? from our first falling and getting up again, from the moment we found a fragile young bird fallen out of its nest which we cherished in our hands; didn’t we try to conquer death when we were sitting next to our sick sister or brother; when sustaining a fellow student who was struggling; when being confronted with an outstretched hand at the entrance of the metro, ... or hoping a bruised reed will not be broken, as Isaiah writes ? ( Is. 42,3).
Answering death, starts by dealing with suffering, with every minor death. For example, when there is no wine at the wedding party; when there is not enough bread for the five thousand, when reconciliation is difficult; when disagreement claims “who-will-be-the-greatest”; when justice needs to restore evil and corruption, when the flute invites to dance, when the Law hardens and loses its inspiration; when we try to deepen prayer, to respect the temple, and of course when parents try to comfort the two little cousins weeping at their uncle's grave.
It is a lifelong learning process, a resurrection pilgrimage, from our childhood on, to face all kind of sufferings and getting through the daily difficulties of life and to cherish life as a sanctuary.
Resurrection does not start far later, soon after life has passed away. It starts on the day of our birth, facing the pain of being drawn into daylight, passing through the narrow gate of a mother in labour pains. It later becomes more evident when being baptized and receiving the blessing: "You are my beloved - I will be for you." In baptism, in broken bread, in the Eucharist, we are fully risen in God and in Christ.
The companion who joins our pilgrimage to Emmaüs helps us to look backwards. “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24,26) To look backwards in order to understand that countering any kind of suffering is hoping for resurrection.
To discover the guiding principle of this constant resurrection, our eyes need a lot of words, parables, a poetic language and a lot of memories.
That is why the disciple Philip, for example, refers to scripture when he wants to explain to the pilgrim Ethiopian the verse on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah , "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter." (Acts 8, 26-40). And when Moses asks the Lord : “How can I explain to my people that you can overcome death and save our lives. Who are you? ", he receives the answer : " Come and stay here next to me on the rock, (…) and when my glory passes before you, and when I then withdraw my hand, then you can see Me from behind, for no one can see my face. " (Ex. 33, 21-23).
We only see God from behind, once he has passed. Memory catches up with us and walks along with us, slowly revealing Gods constant presence : He will not break but heal.
Believing or trusting that death is not the last word, one needs to read the events of one’s own life with eyes fixed on the light. Every act of love, every attempt at understanding, every recovery, every word that comforts, every gesture that embraces, these signs are all great and meaningful enough to pull the sting out of death.
That is how the third person joins the pilgrims. He listens. He knows our longing for life, exactly as his Father does when he says: "I have seen the misery of my people - I will be there for you."
Jesus shares the entire experience of human life : with the lame, the sick, the spiritual seeker, with the prostitute, the prisoner, with the thirsty and the hungry, with every one who doubts, with all who are longing for relief, healing, consolation, respect, recognition, with his opponents and enemies, with evil doers. Every one of his encounters is an act against death, an act which restores life.
We therefore proclaim : He is resurrection. He is the continuous resurrection of every one of us. He brings us back to life and brings all renewed life to the Lord of life.
In this memory He opens up our eyes.
Mark Butaye -
April 2020, 3rd Sunday of Easter