HOMILY at the 9h MASS for the THIRD SUNDAY of EASTERTIDE (A) 2017
The Risen Christ present on the journey
The story of Christ’s presence on the Emmaus road with the two disciples and his subsequent appearance to their opened eyes as he broke bread with them is so redolent of the Eucharist that it is almost too easy to miss another important aspect of this story.
And that is Christ’s presence in the journey itself.
This is something well worth consideration carefully – particularly for us who live in times where so many of the old fixed points in life have been removed, the old securities have been cut from below our feet. We see ourselves, our lives as being in the process rather than some kind of finished product. Our Church life is no longer envisaged as a static reality, but as the pilgrim people of God on the march – even the buildings we create should have a degree of impermanence, more like tents than temples. It is all a part of the post-modern world which we now inhabit.
That being the case, the Emmaus story should have even greater importance and significance for us. T S Eliot in The Waste Land picks this up where he compares the experience of Cleopas and his friend on the white road through the desert with the experience of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Shackleton, in what is still regarded as a pretty nigh miraculous crossing of South Georgia (after an equally miraculous 800 mile sea journey) to enable the rescue of his team, was conscious of an unseen third person present all the way with the two of them.
And we don’t have to go to the extremes of such endeavours to know something of this unseen presence in our lives, though usually it is a presence we discern after (sometimes long after) the events themselves have unfolded. An unseen presence has been with us, supporting, guiding, explaining and sustaining.
Even if we don’t recognise such moments or periods of our lives very readily, a moment’s thought about who we are will perhaps open our eyes to the stranger on the road with us.
When we think back over our lives, how much we change! Of course our cells are constantly wearing out and being replaced, or not. I am only too conscious personally of the squillions of little grey cells which have left my brain since I was eighteen, and which don’t get replaced! Physically, we look a bit different – even though usually it is just possible to make out the reality of someone’s essential features when we compare them with an old photograph!
And if this is true for us physically, it most certainly is true spiritually. Or it should be. Our spiritual life should be just as much a process of development, and with it the associated changes necessary. Long ago, the great spiritual director Baron von Hugel spoke about the three ages of our development. We start life needing a great deal of structure, laws, guidelines, clear statements of belief. But then we move forward to the second age, when we have to question, to doubt, to explore and probably even to rebel and reject. This is then followed by another stage as we mature, which von Hugel spoke of as the time of mystical encounter, when our relationship with God is deeper, less structured and where all the old securities are left behind.
Clearly we are all on a journey. From a Christian perspective, we know that we are accompanied on that journey by the Risen Christ. Frequently we do not recognise him, or do not want to be challenged out of misery or self-indulgence or out of our supposed security by him, as we walk along dejectedly. But there are moments when our eyes are opened. Where the words we have long heard are broken and we hear. Where the bread we have long tasted is suddenly new.
Our faith commits us to a journey with the Risen Christ. A journey of new discoveries in which we shall be repeatedly surprised – though not always happily. The only problem for us is if we are not prepared to embark on the journey because we think that we have already arrived.