Recently in the city of Raqqa in Northern Syria masked men staged a mock crucifixion – one of many apparently. In front of a sizeable crowd they shot a man, then dragged his bloodied body across a public square, and tied it to a make-shift cross on a metal pole. The eyewitness who documented this scene with photographs said it was a scene seared forever into his memory. The crime? He was a Christian!
If that scene remains etched on the memory of the eyewitness what must it have been like for the followers of Jesus who had witnessed a real crucifixion. Think of Peter and how gutted he must have been after his denial. Think of Mary Magdalene or the beloved disciple who must have been totally bewildered and confused at the foot of the cross. It was all so promising a few days earlier. They must have surely thought that Jesus would angle his way out of this one. But no, instead they witnessed the now lifeless body of Jesus laid in the tomb. Or think of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in today’s Gospel. They had obviously travelled with Jesus and had pinned their hopes on this amazing prophet setting the whole of Israel free. Instead they opted out, leaving Jerusalem, the very centre of their newfound hopes, behind them.
But they are nonetheless walking and talking and there is great value in both. There’s nothing like a long walk to get the blood pumping and clear one’s head. A long walk can give one a new perspective or a chance to work through an issue either on one’s own or with a friend. And so it was for these two sad companions. On their seven-mile walk they were “conversing and debating” about the distressing events of the past few days in Jerusalem and trying to make sense of it all. One can only imagine their “what ifs,” “whys” and “how could this have happened?” This is what we do when confronted with the sudden death of dreams, hopes, expectations or even persons. Of course in this case their despair and confusion were so profound that they could neither rejoice in the women’s report of the empty tomb, nor recognize Jesus when he joined them. Their grief pinned their eyes steadfastly to the ground and so as a result Jesus was a mere stranger to them. “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?”
When Jesus asks them ‘what things?’ they were able to report to him all the facts. “He was a prophet mighty in word and deed; our chief priests handed him over to be crucified; some women have even reported that he is risen from the dead.” Yes, they had their facts right but they couldn’t see the full picture. It’s a bit like looking at the back of a beautiful tapestry. You see all the different colours, the odds and ends of stitches, but you don’t see the whole pattern. It doesn’t make sense from the back. Turn it around and there you will see the pattern. It was likewise with the two disciples. They had accurately seen what is there to be seen. But they don’t see the pattern. They don’t get him. And so they are walking away in dejection from Jerusalem. How reassuring it is then when Jesus joins them and opens up the scriptures for them, concluding: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter his glory?” Their hearts commence to burn within them, for they are seeing the pattern that makes sense of the whole of Jesus’ life.
Perhaps it’s like this for many of us. We can relate very well the basic facts about Jesus. But many of us don’t get him, for we haven’t seen the pattern. Peter was like this too. It was only on Pentecost when he was emboldened by the Spirit that he could see the bigger picture and testify that the Christ first had to suffer and so enter into his glory.
We can all get stuck in the disappointments and losses of our lives. Sometimes it’s all too easy to despair and walk away from it all, just like the two disciples. At times like this it’s good to remember that Jesus is there, walking the same road by our side, sharing our burden of grief for as long as is necessary, patiently helping us to reinterpret our situation until we are ready to recognize him in the power of his resurrection. The responsorial psalm provides the answer in a nutshell. “The Lord is my portion and my cup.” Because psalmist belongs to the Lord he can then add with great confidence, “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence, at your right hand, bless forever.”
Sunday, 4th May 2014