Sunday, 6 April 2008

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A

It sounds like another Post-Resurrection story—Jesus appearing to two disciples as he did first to Cephas, secondly to the Twelve and to the 500. But, there is a difference because Emmaus is the promise of Christ fulfilled.

Christ’s promise is set within the context of failure of expectation. These two, their faces were downcast—they were “heading back” discouraged and disheartened. For Luke, Jerusalem is the city of destiny in God’s plan and so “heading back” meant heading away from Jerusalem. It meant turning away from one’s destiny and returning to one’s previous life. Just like Peter and the rest did in the uncertain days after the Resurrection of Jesus. [Check out Jn 21]

So the 3rd Sunday of Easter is a good time to reflect on our experience of failure of expectation. What would a Christian’s response be when things do not turn out the way we want them to? One thing to note is that our experience of failure may be more acute if you consider how life is marketed as a series of magical moments captured in precise picture perfection. All our advertising is geared towards promising a life which is by and large free from constraints. It is not surprising that we have been schooled or socialised into expectation that a good life is a right and not a blessing. Nothing must go wrong because failure is not an option in a competitive “I have to win” world.

But the two disciples encountered abject failure. “Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free”. They had expectations.

So, how did they surmount or overcome their anger, disappointment, frustration, pain, resentment or sorrow?

They didn’t. They didn’t do anything except turn in on themselves. In their case, it was Jesus who came to them. In fact they were rather caught up with themselves when Jesus encountered them that they said this to Him: “You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days”.

Our normal reaction is caution when we encounter people who have to deal with failure of expectation. When people are hurting, conventional wisdom tells us to allow them the space to “hurt”. But what we have here is that Jesus challenged the two disciples’ take on disappointment, pain and sorrow when He told them: You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, He explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about Him. He cut through their veil of disappointment.

Thus, the conversation Jesus had with the two is crucial to the process of healing—to how we deal with failure of expectation. Why? This is because on the road from hurt to healing, people are often caught up with their grief that they see nothing else but their grief. We don’t see the healing that can take place. We only bewail the injury we have. But, Jesus is not about to be put off by our grief. He may enter our grief as He did with the two disciples but He would be firm in dealing with us. He listens and yet He challenges.

And here is where the paradox is. The two disciples were in grief and yet Jesus was most with them—Jesus was there in their deepest despair and yet they recognised Him not. Only when Jesus disappeared from their sight did they realise with joy that it was Him. In our grief, disappointment and our pain, our normal instinct tells us that Jesus is absent but the Emmaus story tells us that Jesus is closer to us in our despair than He is to us when we are in joy. That’s the paradox.

The elation of Easter is easing down and the Emmaus story comes as a timely reminder that the period of post-conversion (the period after the Resurrection) will inevitably bring the believer face to face with disappointment. Firstly, the grace to ask is to be aware of how close Jesus is to us. Secondly, when things go wrong, we may logically explain the failure we experience but ultimately it is the heart that is in need of healing. Therefore, it pays to be attentive to the state of heart because it is the heart that must let go, the heart that must forgive before we can move forward toward healing. Usually the head takes the lead whilst the heart is reluctant to follow. In fact, our head may tell us what is logical but our hearts often stay longer on the road of disappointment, failure, sorrow, grief, shattered dreams. We know we should let go but our hearts are not ready.

Precisely because Jesus knows that our hearts need a longer time to deal with hurts, pains and disappointments that He ensures that we are never alone on the road to Emmaus. On this journey He accompanies us through the Eucharist. Note that in this story, Luke’s deliberate use of Eucharistic language that Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them proves that it is precisely through these actions that Christ’s promise to be with us till the end of time is fulfilled. Thus, the Road to Emmaus and the Eucharist are closely inter-connected. In fact, the more disappointment, the more sorrow, the more anger, the more hatred we have, the more we ought to come for Mass. We celebrate the Eucharist not because we are perfect but simply because our hearts are often slower than our heads. In fact, our hearts are often not where our heads are. Logically, we know we ought to forgive, we ought to let go, we ought to move on but emotionally we are not ready and so in the Eucharist Jesus feeds us so that our heart will find the strength to catch up with what we know and what we ought to do.