24 April 2020

'Our life is changed; his coming our beginning.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A

The Road to Emmaus
Fritz von Uhde [Wikipedia]

The April issue of Magnificat features this painting on its cover. You will find Pierre-Marie Dumont's commentary on it here.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 24:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition, Canada)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Horses  by Edwin Muir

In my Reflections for Good Friday and Easter Sunday I used poems by Scottish poet Edwin Muir that were explicitly Christian. Even though his poem above, The Horses, is not overtly Christian, I read it in the light of the Resurrection. It is set in a world after a seven-day nuclear war but with a powerful message of hope. The words of the poem are here.

They remind me of Psalm 103 [104], the Grail translation of which you'll find here. This is used in the Office of Readings on the second Sunday of the four-week Psalter in The Divine Office (Breviary). It is a marvellous song of praise to God for his creation and how He takes care of every creature: 

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow in between the hills.
They give drink to all the beasts of the field;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
On their banks dwell the birds of heaven;
from the branches they sing their song.

The psalm reflects the first account of creation in Genesis 1:

And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

A Ploughman
Francis Wheatley [Web Gallery of Art]

Edwin Muir shows the relationship that God intended between us and some of his other creatures: 

Since then they have pulled our ploughs and borne our loads, 
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts. 
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Our life is changed because of the pandemic; the life of the whole world is changed. There is evidence that our skies are clearer because so many smoke-producing buildings such as factories are closed for the time being, so few planes are flying and roads are almost empty of cars. As I write, some oil-producers cannot sell their product.

We wonder when things will return to normal. Should they return to the previous 'normal'? 

We had sold our horses in our fathers' time 
To buy new tractors . . . Yet they waited, 
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent 
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship. 

But we had hoped, said the two disciples to Jesus. When news of Covid-15 in China came out in January I filed it away in my mind with SARS and Ebola, which had affected a limited number of countries. I didn't even hope that it would not affect Ireland or any other part of Europe. I simply presumed it wouldn't. Now it has reached almost every part of the globe and has affected every one of us to some degree or other. The other night I spoke to a retired religious sister in the USA who lives in her congregation's retirement home. All the Sisters are confined to their rooms, even for meals. I heard the same from a retired religious priest in Dublin who recently decided to go into a nursing home there. Neither of my friends was complaining. But their lives, along with those of countless others, have been restricted, as has my own, though I am not confined to my room and can walk in our extensive grounds which are normally open to the public, though not right now..

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus could not see beyond the Crucifixion and the end of their hopes. But the stranger whom they invited into their company led them gradually to see the reality of his Resurrection. When the two reached their destination, the inn in Emmaus, they extended their hospitality to the stranger: Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over. They invited him to their table where they recognised him as he broke bread with them and vanished from their sight.

But Jesus was far more powerfully present to them now. Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? They immediately became missionaries.

The Capuchin Day Centre for the Homeless is situated behind St Mary of the Angels Church in Dublin, run by the Capuchin friars, about 15 minutes' walk from where I grew up. Pope Francis visited the Centre in August 2018. Because of social distancing regulations people can no longer eat in the Centre. So the friars have made the church available as a dining room. I experienced something akin to that in the late 1980s when I was asked to be part of a group investigating human rights violations in a remote mountain area of Cebu Province in the Philippines. We slept the two nights we were there on pews in the parish church. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).

At one level nothing changed when the two disciples recognised the Risen Lord Jesus. Life still went on as usual in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Galilee, in the rest of the world. But their understanding of everything had changed radically and they began to share that understanding with their companions, setting off for Jerusalem immediately, even though it was night. That sharing continues to this day.

Where is the Risen Lord in all of this? He shows himself in those taking care of the sick at this time. Many front-line medics have given their lives in order to save others. And to the medics he shows himself in the sick. He is present in the staff of the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin. He is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the church next door where now homeless people can eat breakfast and lunch because there is nowhere else to go. To the Capuchin friars and the staff of the Centre he shows himself in the poor and the hungry.

In my post-Resurrection understanding of Edwin Muir's poem I see the Risen Lord as showing himself through the horses as he showed himself to the two disciples in Emmaus through the breaking of bread: Our life is changed; their coming our beginning. Cleopas and his companion could say almost exactly the same thing: Our life is changed; his coming our beginning.

What will our beginning, my beginning, be right now and post-Covid-19?

Giovanni Segantini [Web Gallery of Art]

Easter Music

Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah
Royal Choral Society

Handel's Messiah  is performed in many places during Advent. But it's first performance was in my native Dublin on 13 April 1742, during the Easter Season. Easter Sunday that year fell on 25 March. During Lent we never sing or say Alleluia, which means 'Praise the Lord'. It is sung again during the Easter Vigil. So the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah - Hallelujah is a variant spelling of Alleluia - is above all an Easter hymn. And it is worth nothing that in this 'Covid-19' recording each singer dressed formally at home as they would have done had they been singing in the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sinfonia from Easter Oratorio by JS Bach

Easter Sunday 1725 fell on 1 April when Bach's Easter Oratorio was first performed in St Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany. Therecording of the full Oratorio from which this extract is taken is on YouTube here. The conductor, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, is my 'twin' as we were both born on the same day. The instrumental Sinfonia is such a joyful piece of music! It has been said that when the angels are on duty they Bach when 'on duty' and Mozart when 'off duty'. Both were gifted by God and have revealed to us something of the beauty of God.

Below are some 'off duty' angels I found in Jerusalem playing the first movement of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - A Little Night Music. 

'Mozart in Quarantine'
Jerusalem Street Orchestra


Maeve Buckley said...

Thank you Fr. Sean. A most touching sermon and the beautiful poetry inter grated with magnificent music. So uplifting and inspiring to carry on. God bless. Maeve

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Maeve, for your encouraging comment. May God bless you and all your family.