Sunday, May 31, 2009

4-6-2008: 3rd Easter (A)

Acts of the Apostles 2:14,22-33/Psalm 16/1Peter 1:17-21/John 24:13-35
When the two distraught disciples meet up with the stranger on the road to Emmaus, little did they know that their conversation would lead them to recognize in him -- the stranger -- the presence of the Risen Lord.

A seeming unimportant aspect of the story is the little-discussed fact that the two never make it to Emmaus. After their experience of recognition, the gospel says, they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem. Thus, it is a point of scholarly (and therefore trivial) interest that no one knows with certainty the exact location of Emmaus; nor the road the disciples took to get there. That road on which their re-education (the readjustment of their vision permitting them to recognize what had previously been hidden from their sight) had taken place.

Some have called the gospels myth, so I do not feel that guilty in pointing out parallel myths of trips to bountiful in American culture. When, for example, Bart Giomotti, medieval scholar and once high-commissioner of Baseball, wrote of Baseball as a metaphor for life: the object of the game being to end up where you started – home plate; but the most important part of baseball, as in life, takes place in-between. Or when, in the midst of an Iowa tornado, Dorothy is rendered unconscious, permitting her to embark on an adventure of self-awareness as scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion journey with her on the yellow brick road toward the Emerald City and the Wizard of Oz. There, it is hoped, all danger will abate, all problems will be solved, and all the heart’s desires be fulfilled. But Oz and the Wizard fail to deliver; only when Dorothy comes back to her senses in Iowa do we understand the meaning of her journey.

What had begun as an escape attempt on the part of the distraught disciples (the flight from Jerusalem to Emmaus), turned into a life-altering experience in which their desire to escape was converted into a desire to return. Religion’s appeal to many is that it encourages us to escape, holding up the reward of heaven as an end worthy of our obedience. But, if today’s gospel be true, it’s the journey that’s most important: when your point of view changes; when the readjustment of your vision enables you to recognize what was previously hidden from your sight; when you recognize that the here-and-now is at least as good as any Emerald City. All the way to Heaven, St. Catherine of Sienna said, is Heaven. Or as the fantasy film, Field of Dreams, suggested when the main character meets his long-deceased father on that magical baseball field. His father, perhaps only dimly aware that he is talking with his own son after so many melancholy years, feels compelled by some indefinable joy to ask: Is this Heaven? No, the son says. It’s Iowa.

But that’s the point, isn’t it: Iowa and Heaven are one and the same. We shall not cease from exploration, the poet said, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. Or, as Dorothy would have it, clicking her ruby slippers while coming to her senses: There’s no place like home.

Emmaus, Oz, Heaven, Home -- whatever you call it -- is not a place, but the capacity to recognize in the mundane, the unexpected, the stranger – a hint of glory – that which had been, until we undertook the journey, hidden from our sight.

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