Third Sunday of Easter
4 May 2014
St. Macartan’s Cathedral, 10.30am
My dear friends,
Mary and Harry have been happily married for six years. It hasn’t been bliss all the way, but they’ve become the best of friends in their struggle to live a happy life together with their two children. One evening Harry and John were having a drink together. John was best man at Harry’s wedding. As they share memories of married life, Harry tells John how he loved Mary from the first moment he laid eyes on her.
John smiled, “Harry, you old fool,” said John, “You have forgotten that I introduced you to Mary. You heard her talking at a party in our house and when you heard her prattling on, you said that whoever married that doll would need neither a dictionary nor a radio.” John remembers the event as it happened. Harry remembered it as something more – an event that led to where he is now. Harry is in love now. He projects that love back in time and invests the past with a new significance. His relationship with Mary now affects the way he remembers their beginnings. He gives their first meeting a significance it never had at the time because he sees it in the light of his present love. His love in a sense changes the past.
This happens all of us. Because we change, we see our past differently in later times. We often reinterpret the past in the light of what is going on in our lives now. What appeared to be a mountain at the time may now be recognised as a mole-hill; what appears to be an insignificant chance encounter may have become the most important meeting of our lives. The meaning of an experience may have been unclear at the time it happened. It may take time and further happenings before we fully understand what did occur.
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus are struggling to make sense of the death of Jesus. They may have felt the need to get out of Jerusalem, to get out of the place for a while where their hope for the future was dashed. When a stranger joins them they tell the story of their disappointment. Jesus, the one they hoped would set Israel free, is now dead. They feel hopeless and helpless. The death of Jesus destroyed everything, especially their hopes for the future. It was a tragic end to a promising dream. Death can be the end of promise. The two disciples are mourning not only the death of Jesus but the death of their future. The look on their face and the spirit in their heart matched their story.
When he had listened carefully and sympathetically, the stranger began to tell his own story. He invited them to take another look at the past, this time in the light of their knowledge of scripture. He gives a totally different interpretation of the same event. He tells them that the death of Christ was something that had to happen before he entered into his glory. In fact he shows them that the death of Christ expressed the success of his mission and not its collapse.
The stranger was helping the two disciples to make sense of the past in a new light. They were happy to hold on to this man, he was more than interesting company. So they invited him to stay; it was getting late. When they sat at table they broke bread together. It was not until then that they recognised him. This was the risen Lord and he left them with hearts that burn and with eyes that see. Not only does he help them to reinterpret the past in the light of their new experience of him as risen Lord; he gives them a new future. They can now face back towards Jerusalem and share their story with the others.
In their new experience of Jesus as risen Lord, the disciples’ past is changed. They can now revisit the past in the new light of what they have experienced. They can take the light of Easter into the darkness of Good Friday. Everything looks different now. The Risen Christ has made sense of everything that went before. In his word and in the breaking of bread, the past is brought up to date. The past can now be seen in the light of the great truth that Jesus is risen and is Lord.
When we gather here, as we do this morning, to celebrate the Eucharist we too listen to the word of God and break bread together. Jesus comes among us, not as a stranger, but he comes to us in word and sacrament to give us new hope to face the future with faith in him. Our own stories may not be that very different from those of the two disciples. We may have experienced great disappointment too and we may have a past that we do not fully understand. We are invited to tell our stories to the Lord, to listen to him as he speaks his word and to recognise him in the breaking of bread. Then we may be able to look at the past with understanding and to the future with hope.
+Liam S. MacDaid
4 May 2014