Acts 2, 14, 22-28 + Psalm 16 + 1 Peter 1, 17-21 + Luke 24, 13-35
It has always fascinated and amused me to notice the names of Churches. When it comes to Catholic Churches, there are often hints about the ethnic origins of the founding families. Sometimes the names are a little more obscure. We have two parishes in my home diocese named for Saint Eugene. For those of us there who are old enough to remember, those parishes were founded by a Bishop named: Eugene. Whether or not is says something about his hopes and ambitions remains a matter of conversation among the older priests who can remember him. Perhaps he was hoping to invoke the protection or assistance of that rather obscure Pope from the 7th century known for his generosity to the poor. All I know is that we have two parishes in the diocese named St. Eugene which is probably something of a record. You have to go to Wendell, North Carolina or to Chicago to find another one. Protestant Churches, probably in reaction to the cult of Saints have tended to come up with even more imagination. There is always the “First” whether it is Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist. I’ve never run across and “Second”, “Third”, or “Fourth” among them. Perhaps it is some kind of race or ambition rather than a numerical counting. Coming in “first” is always preferable. Then there is that custom of naming a church by the street which could get confusing if the church is on a number-named street or if they decide to abandon some neighborhood, pack and move to the suburbs which happens where I live. There is a “Capitol Hill Baptist Church a very long distance from Capitol Hill where the street language is now Spanish. Be that as it may, here we are on the Veendam this week and I’m going to be on the Veendam for the next three! So, perhaps we should call ourselves, “Veendam Catholic.” “Veen” by the way is a city in the Dutch Province of North Brabant. You should probably know that just in case anyone asks you what you did or learned at Church today!
It is significant, at least to me, that our first celebration of the Eucharist together is done so much in the setting of a Gospel text the whole western church proclaims this weekend. This is as much a story about the church as it is about disciples or the risen Lord. We already know that the disciples were down, disappointed, discouraged, and depressed over the way things had gone in Jerusalem. We already know from last week’s Gospel that Jesus is up and out of the grave. He has been showing up here and there, and proposing some rather challenging things to those who experience his presence: about going to Galilee and about baptizing, healing, and about going to the Father but not leaving them like orphans! Galilee in those days was not exactly a resort destination! Their first thought at that command would have been: “For how long?” Perhaps they thought it was a “penance” for having abandoning him!
At any rate, in the middle of this story there is a detail that shows up in Mark’s Gospel as well. It is a simple little comment that could easily be missed in the great drama of this scene. Luke writes: “And their eyes were opened.” Notice that in grammar this is in the passive voice. It does not say, “They opened their eyes.” So we can understand two important things: 1) their experience is not about something that involves the physical ability to see. 2) God did something to them or for them. What happened did not depend upon something they did.
This is not about seeing. This is about believing, and that believing and that experience of Christ and of God’s work cannot happen when someone, anyone, you and I included are closed. A closed mind can never and will never perceive, understand, experience or enjoy the work of God here and now. Until those disciples or perhaps they are the Church of Emmaus have been opened they cannot see nor believe that God is present and active in and around them. Openness is essential. Openness is a quality of a disciple without which they can never truly believe and then do what disciples must do.
The disciples were shaken and were not able to make sense of the resurrection because they were not open to God acting in human history in ways they did not expect or in ways they could not control. Not until they were opened could they come to realize what had happened not only to Jesus Christ, but to them as well. Closed minds and closed hearts can never and will never experience the joy, the hope, and the peace that faith in the risen Christ can offer us. A closed mind that encounters a personal tragedy will never wonder what God can do in that circumstance. A closed heart will never recognize the face of Christ in the presence of an enemy or a foreigner.
Openness is the gift for which we must pray in this season. Openness is a sure sign of the Holy Spirit blowing and moving, refreshing and clearing away the debris of the past. Our hearts and our vision these days after Easter are already looking toward Pentecost. Perhaps more than at any other time, we should be anxious and ready for that Spirit to open us again wider and wider to the endless possibilities of what God can do with us and what God has in store for us. Clinging to the past, insisting on old way and old thinking, closes our eyes, hearts, and minds to what is yet to come. Our expectations of how God should be God can get in the way of God being God.
As we near the great Feast of Pentecost, our prayer and our hope must be for a greater share in a Spirit of Openness that will make all things new, even this church, even our lives, marriages, our children, and our world. When we have been opened, painful and disappointing as it might be, we shall then truly see, believe, and rejoice in the reality of Jesus among us. Again and again in the weeks between now and Pentecost we should be saying over and over again: “Come Holy Spirit” and when we do we ought to mean: “Open my Eyes, My Heart, and my Soul.”