The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Cleopas in Us

One of the more moving passages of scripture that gets recalled this time of year is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. For readers of the King James Bible, this village has little meaning other than a specific destination for Cleopas and his companion who were leaving Jerusalem dazed and confused after the death of Christ. In point of fact, Luke's Gospel is the second time Emmaus is mentioned in sacred scripture. It was here that an outnumbered and lightly armed army of Judas Machabeus defeated the gentile forces of Gorgias as recounted in 1 Maccabees. Today, the village has long since taken its exit from the stage of history, though some claim a Muslim village called 'Am'was might be the Emmaus from the Gospel.

Regardless of its location, every Christian at some point in his journey, or more than likely many times, takes a walk on the road to Emmaus. It happens in those difficult moments when it appears that Christ has abandoned one. Like the disciples, one grumbles along thinking that one walks alone. Disappointed about whatever is going on in one's life at the time it becomes nearly impossible to see Christ even when He manifests himself and walks with one.

And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
(Luke (RSV) 24:25-26)

It is one's unwillingness to embrace one's faith and one's suffering that prevents a seeking of the love of The Christ in moments of distress. What is desired is Jesus the problem solver more than the Savior. An urgent petition gets offered up, but when the desired answer doesn't just as readily get returned, one's uniting with Our Lord's suffering ends with "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Psalms (RSV) 22) And with that lament, one embarks onto that fateful road to Emmaus convinced that Christ has not risen to the occasion.

Roads play an important role in salvation history, especially when that road leads away from Jerusalem. It was on a road from Jerusalem to Damascus where Saul got knocked down and had his conversion. In Acts we read about Philip being instructed by an angel to go down a particular desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza where he meets an Ethiopian thirsting to understand sacred scripture and upon being instructed insists upon being baptized with the nearest water available. The Good Samaritan parable has the traveler set upon by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. And of course Cleopas and his friend were leaving Jerusalem headed for Emmaus after the death of Christ.

But why Jerusalem? Step for a moment into the mind of an ancient Jew. The Talmud speaks of God giving Jerusalem its name so by default the city was considered a holy city. In Hebrew scripture Jerusalem is represented as Yira Shalem. Yira means to see. Shalem means peace. So each of the characters in the above stories had left the holy city of peace. Paul left on a mission of self righteousness to cure the world of what he saw as heresy against Judaism. Unable to see peace, Christ blinded him. The Ethiopian unable to see peace in the scripture he didn't understand left in need of being catechized. The traveler may have wanted to see peace, but misfortune came upon him in the form of violence. And Cloepas and company had seen peace in The Christ, but left in despair upon the Savior's death.

How often does one leave Christ out of righteousness, pride, ignorance, misfortune, or despair? It is precisely when one finds oneself on a road that leads away from this place of peace which is Jesus that one needs to do an about face and return to him. And lest one forgets where to find Christ, Our Lord gave us a way, a physical manifestation witnessed by the the disciples from Emmaus that allows us to come home to Him.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
(Luke (RSV) 24:30-35)

The mass is where to find Our Lord and return to the peace one seeks. Here scripture gets opened and Christ gets revealed in the consecration of the bread and wine. No matter what troubles may weigh upon one's heart, comfort is found in the knowing that the Lord has risen and one has joined with him in the Eucharistic meal. One must then know that no matter how lonely the road may seem, with Christ, one never travels it alone.


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