Sunday, April 24, 2011

For All the Miracles: The Road To Emmaus and After

Guest post by Giovanni Papini (published in 1921)

After the solemn interval of the Passover, plain, ordinary everyday life began again for all men.

Two friends of Jesus, among those who were in the house with the Disciples, were to go that morning on an errand to Emmaus, a hamlet about two hours journey from Jerusalem. They left as soon as Simon and John had returned from the sepulcher.

All these amazing tales had shaken them somewhat, but had not really convinced them of an event so portentous and unexpected. Serious-minded men, they could not understand or believe what they had heard: if the body of the Master was no longer there, might it have been taken away by men's hands?

Cleopas and his companions were good Jews, men who left a place for the ideal in their minds, burdened with many material cares. But this place for the ideal was not to be too large, and this ideal must be commensurate with their own natures if it were not to be expelled as an unwelcome guest.

Like almost all the Disciples, they too expected the coming of a Liberator, but of one who would come to liberate Israel first of all, —a Messiah, in short, who would be the son of David rather than the Son of God, a warrior on horseback rather than a poor pedestrian, a scourge of His enemies and not a lover of sick people and children.

The words of Christ had almost given them a glimpse of higher truths, but the crucifixion disheartened them. They loved Jesus, and they suffered in His suffering, but this sudden, shameful ending without glory and without resistance was too great a contrast to what they had expected, and especially to much of what they had hoped.

They could understand that He might be a humble Savior, riding on gentle asses instead of warlike chargers, and a little more spiritual and gentle than they would have liked; they could understand this, although with difficulty, and endure it, although grudgingly. But that the Liberator had not known how to free either Himself or others, that the Messiah of the Jews should have died through the will of so many Jews on the scaffold of murderers and parricides, was too great a disappointment, —an inexcusable scandal.

They pitied the crucified leader with all their hearts, but at the same time they were tempted to believe that they had been deceived about His real nature. His death— and what a death!—looked to their narrow, practical minds sadly like a failure.

They were reasoning together of all these things as they went along under the warm noonday sun and at times, discussion got hot, for they did not always agree. Then suddenly, they caught a glimpse of a shadow on the ground near them. They turned around.

The shadow was that of a man who was following as if he wished to hear what they were saying. They stopped, as was the custom, to greet him, and the traveler joned them. His did not seem an unknown face to the two men, but look at him as they might, they could not think who it was.

The newcomer, instead of answering their silent questions, asked them, "What manner of communications are these that you have one to another, as you walk?"

Cleopas, who must have been the older, answered with a wondering gesture, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have you not known the things which have happened in these recent days?"

"What things?" asked the unknown man.

"Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. And how the chief priests and our rulers delievered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel. And beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulcher; and when they found not his body, they came saying that they had also seen visions of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulcher and found it even so as the women had said, but him they saw not."

"Oh fools, and slow of heart," exclaimed the stranger, "to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? Do you not remember how He was predicted from Moses down to our own time? Have you not read Ezekiel and Daniel? Do you not even know our songs of the Lord and His promises?"

And almost indignantly He recited the old words and the prophecies, recalled the description of the Man of Sorrows given by Isaiah. The two listened, docile and attentive, without answering, because the newcomer spoke with so much heat, and the old admonitions in His mouth took on new warmth and a meaning so clear that it seemed almost impossible that they had not understood them before. The talk of the newcomer gave them the impression of being the echo of other talks like those heard in times past, but confusedly, like the voice on the other side of a wall.

In the meantime they had arrived at the entrance of Emmaus, and the pilgrim made as though He would have gone further. But now the two friends were not willing to part with their mysterious companion, and they begged Him to stay with them. The sun was going down, throwing a warmer golden light on the countryside, and their three shadows lengthened on the dusty road.

"Abide with us," they said, "for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." Also thou art tired and it is the hour for food. And they took Him by the hand and made Him come into the house where they were going.

When they were at table, the guest who sat between them took bread, and broke it and gave a little to one of His friends. At this action, the eyes of Cleopas and the other man were opened, as when we are suddenly wakened and find the sun shining. Both of them sprang to their feet, trembling with emotion, pale, amazed, and finally knew Him, the murdered man whom they had misunderstood and slandered. But they had no time to even run to kiss Him, for Jesus vanished out of their sight.

They had not recognized Him when they had seen Him, not even by His speech, although that was so like His speech in His lifetime. They had not recognized Him even by the light of His eyes while He spoke, nor by the sound of His voice! But when He took the bread in His hands, like a father who shares it with His children in the evening after a day of work and travel, in that loving action which they had seen Him perform so many times in their hastily arranged intimate suppers, they had recognized His hands, His blessed and wounded hands, and the cloud lifted and they found themselves face to face with the splendor of Christ raised from the dead.

In His first life when He was their friend, they had not understood Him. When on the road to Emmaus He had taught them, they had not recognized Him; but at that moment when He became the loving Master, serving His servants and giving them bread, which is life and hope of life, then for the first time, they saw Him.

And tired and fasting as they were, they went back over the road which they had come, and after nightfall arrived at Jerusalem. And as they went along they said almost shamefacedly, "Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened us to the scriptures?"

The Disciples were still awake. Without drawing breath the newcomers told of their encounter and what had been said along the way, and how they had recognized Him only at the moment when He broke the bread. And in answer to this new confirmation, three or four voices cried out together, "The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!"

But not all the Apostles were convinced even by these appearences, by the four-fold testimony. To some, this prompt, this extraordinary resurrection, which had taken place by night in a secret and suspicious manner, seemed more hallucination of grief and yearning than actual truth. Who were the people who claimed to see Him? A hysterical woman who had been possessed by the devil; a distraught man who had not seemed himself from the moment when he had denied His master; and two plain fellows who were not even His real Disciples, and whom Jesus had thus chosen, no one knew why, in preference to His closer friends.

Mary might have been deceived by a phantom; Simon, to win back his self-respect after his baseness, was determined to do no less than Mary; the others were perhaps impostors or, at the most, visionaries. If Christ was really risen, would not He have been seen by them all while they were together? Why these preferences? Why this appearance at three-score furlongs from Jerusalem?

They believed in His resurrection, but they thought of it as one of the signs of the ending of the world, when everything would be fulfilled. But now that they found themselves confronted with the fact that He alone had risen from the dead while everyday life went on as usual, they realized that the return into life of human flesh (and of human flesh which had not gone to sleep peacefully in the last sleep, but whose life had been torn away by violence), that this idea of rising from the dead not in the distant future but in the immediate present, contradicted all the other concepts which made up the tissue of their minds.

They realized that this contradiction had always existed, but their doubt had not risen to consciousness until their brusque encounter of two impossible elements: a remote miracle and an actual fact.

If Jesus had risen from the dead, that would mean that He was really God; but would a real God, a Son of God, ever have been reconciled to allow Himself to be killed, and in so shameful a way? If He could conquer death, why had He not stricken down the judges, put Pilate to confusion, paralyzed the arms of those about to nail Him to the cross? Through what paradoxical mystery had the Omnipotent allowed Himself to be dragged through the ignominy of the weak?

They were reasoning thus among themselves, some of the Disciples who had heard but had not understood. Prudent like all sophists, they did not venture openly to deny the resurrection in the presence of those exalted hearts, but they reserved judgment, turning over in their minds the reasons for its possibility and impossibility, wishing for a manifest confirmation, but unable to hope for one.

In the excitement of the day, no one had eaten. But the women had prepared supper, and now all sat down to the table. Simon remembered the Last Thursday: "This do in remembrance of me."

And a flood of tears dimmed his eyes while he broke the bread and gave it to his friends. They had scarcely eaten the last mouthfuls when Jesus appeared in the doorway, tall and pale. He looked at them one by one, and in His melodious voice greeted them,

"Peace be unto you."

Tissot's "Christ Appears"

I told you Papini could write well! -Ed.