TILL ETERNITY DAWNS

Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
3rd Sunday of Easter - Year A
April 6, 2008

Today, 3rd Sunday of Easter, the liturgy calls our attention to early risers, sojourners, and travelers. In the Gospel, Luke reports the fact that “some women from [their] group … were at the tomb early in the morning.” The same gospel passage tells us about “two of Jesus’ disciples going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus.” Again, the same Lukan report speaks about the disciples being joined by another one, and all three became fellow sojourners as they talked on all the way up to the moment of the “breaking of bread.”

We see here three types of people with very focused goals and precise objectives. The women, presumably, were there first thing in the morning to do unfinished tasks related to the burial of their Master whose death coincided with the Sabbath day of rest. The two disciples had a precise destination – Emmaus, although the Lukan report does not say for what purpose. For all the precision and focus that they all had, these early risers, sojourners and travelers found a surprise that went far beyond what they all originally set out for.

Life, understood as journey, is full of surprises for everyone. Take it from one who, as they say, was “not born yesterday.” This year is a liminal year for me and my batchmates (to borrow from Victor Turner’s theory of liminality). Pushing fifty later this year, I know I am entering onto a new threshold (limen in Latin), a new stage of my life’s journey as a viator, a wayfarer, or a pilgrim, as traditional Christian spirituality would call every human person who ever lived in this world.

Stepping onto a new threshold is always somewhat fearsome, and at the same time, exciting. Saying goodbye to what Gail Sheehy aptly calls the “flourishing forties” and moving onto the threshold of the “fearless fifties” somehow leads one to be more circumspect, to be a little more reflective, a tad more prudent, and a lot more on the side of trying to “re-invent one’s self.”

One looks back to a lot more years. But one also looks forward, not necessarily to an equal number of years, but to producing a more lasting, deeper impact to society, the world, others, and on one’s self. In one’s earlier, more productive, and frenetic years, one focuses more on being a solid ground of hope for others. As one goes to the threshold of the second half of life, one focuses more on becoming a living message and example of hope for all of humanity. The former is primarily a doer, a busy man engaged in making a difference in the world. He or she is the equivalent of the “early riser,” someone with work to do, and businesses to accomplish, for whom time is limited. The latter is primarily a fellow “traveler,” someone for whom the process is more important than the outcome, someone for whom Emmaus is not so much a definitive “terminus ad quem,” (a definite final destination) as an ideal, a dream, a vision that is much bigger than all the Emmauses of the world put together.

Early risers who are at the morning of their lives are very much focused on their productive goals. Travelers who focus less on their goal or destination, and more on their being “wayfarers” are open to realities other than merely attaining their goal. Both early risers and travelers who open themselves to fellowship, to companionship, to intimacy and camaraderie with fellow travelers, become the richer for the experience.

They cease being mere early risers out to do unfinished tasks. They cease being mere travelers out to pursue the dream of their lives. They both become sojourners, wayfarers, and fellow journeyers together with others. They become co-pilgrims, co-searchers, and co-dreamers in pursuit of a reality that is bigger than all of them put together.

Sojourners are people who join something already begun. They don’t start out on a totally new journey of their own. Thus, with the utter confidence of one who has “hitched his wagon” to the rising “star of David,” Peter “raised his voice and proclaimed: […] Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know […] God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death.”

The very same Peter, who for a time faltered as he journeyed with his Master to Calvary, and denied him three times, now declares his unflinching dedication to “go and die with the Master.” He advises his fellow journeyers: “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ as a spotless unblemished lamb.”

Peter’s fellow believers, who not only were “admirers” but real “disciples” of the Lord, who at some point decided to become fellow pilgrims with Peter and the original band of twelve, understood what it meant to be in journey with the Lord towards more than just a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Like them, we seek to understand. Like them, we seek to have a clearer view of what’s coming up ahead in the journey. This search feeds our prayer, even as today we proclaim after the first reading: “Lord, you will show us the path of life.”

The whole idea of life as an ongoing journey with someone else (or with others) is summed up in the Lukan report of the two disciples out for a journey towards an Emmaus experience of sadness, disappointment, and lack of understanding. The two were, to say the least, discouraged. One thing led to another. Their discouragement, dejection, and disappointment led to a certain lack of sight. Someone came in to join them as they trudged along in sadness. Someone came to be their fellow traveler and co-pilgrim – someone they did not recognize, prevented as they were by their self-centered focus on their grief and dejection.
That personage who came to be their companion, who journeyed with them as they sought for enlightenment, as they sought for the meaning and significance of it all, stayed with them as sojourner. Nay more, he stayed with them till the time of the “breaking of bread,” till the brightness of his presence dawned on people whose sights were darkened by sorrow.

It was primarily his presence evoked by the memorial act of the breaking of bread that spelled the dawn of enlightenment and deep realization on the part of the grieving disciples. The Risen Lord’s presence and accompaniment for the two as they journeyed together, became a proclamation and prophetic witnessing to an eminently personal experience of a God who died, but now is risen. In the supreme moment of remembrance, after the mysterious guest reframed the recent events in the light of Biblical hindsight, capped by a re-enactment of the breaking of bread, the two erstwhile sightless disciples, eventually saw … and believed. No wonder, they could confidently join Peter in proclamation and prophetic witnessing via kerygmatic preaching: “God raised this Jesus from the dead; of this we are all witnesses.”

We live in a lonely world. There is so much pain and that pain is worsened by the glaring fact that most people seem condemned to suffer through it all alone. With economic development comes a whole lot of alienation in the developed world. In the less developed countries, alienation happens because poor jobless parents who want to give children a bright future, take resort to outmigration in search of productive work. Families are separated by utter necessity. Loneliness and the phenomenon of various forms of emotional cut-offs stalk the land all over the planet.

Today, the stories of early risers, travelers, and sojourners tell us that this need not be the case. We need not wallow in sadness, dejection, and disappointment. The story of the Risen Lord’s presence in the midst of his fellow pilgrims, sojourners, and travelers, shows us that hope has not grown grey hairs; that hope is not lost. We may have lost our sight, but this memorial act that we do together, as we break bread with the Risen Lord, heightens our faith in him who has assured us: “I will be with you all days, until the end of the world.” With hearts burning within us, we cannot wait till the event of his presence comes to full significance as the Word is proclaimed, and a Memorial is done “in remembrance of him.”

Today’s alternative opening prayer sums it all up for us. It would do us good to pray it together at this time, and to pray it some more all through the day:

Father in heaven, author of all truth, a people once in darkness has listened to your Word and followed your Son as he rose from the tomb. Hear the prayer of this newborn people and strengthen your Church to answer your call. May we rise and come forth into the light of day to stand in your presence until eternity dawns. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Comments

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