02 May 2017

The Road Back from Emmaus

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad.

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up 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 happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even 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 him they did not see.”
                                                                                       Luke 24: 15-24 (ESV)

Notice, the hardest road is always the one to Emmaus. We only know Jesus in the here and now, and what He has been to us in this only-too-limited, 3-years-or-so space of our puny lives. What we really don't know (in those immortal words, not of Luke, but of St John the Evangelist) is where He has come from. And from whom. So how could we possibly imagine - much less draw hope and solace from - where He's going to?

We - you and I, Cleopas and his companion - have only known Jesus as one adult among so many others, among all the rest of us, however exalted-yet-incredible that one unique Life. And that's the crux of our predicament. That's why no amount of tales of an empty tomb or a (surely?) grotesque resuscitated corpse could, even if true, ever be of any real comfort or reassurance to us: we haven't yet seen His whole Divinity, doing what it alone does best - imbuing, refreshing, revivifying the whole of His humanity, and ours. In order to know physically, sensibly (assuming it were possible) His entire God-in-manhood, we'd have to be able to see something like - I don't know, His entire human life? from conception to crucifixion? - simultaneously. But now suppose you had known Him from the very onset of His life, or indeed the very instant of His conception. Would that have given you what is in a sense the supreme faith, the knowledge that a Divine humanity is different? That it is Something so instinct with love as to be able to outlast, rebound from, overcome, defeat, even this unspeakable horror, that you saw with your own eyes just yesterday?

The question as I see it, then, is whether, if we had a certain Mother's kind of love, we would be able to believe through the nightmare of crucifixion, to the ecstasy of resurrection and ascension.

As usual, I can only offer my own opinion.

In a sense, origins are everything, because only they encompass everything that follows. In a sense, every oak is its acorn. Even redemption itself would fail to pierce us to the Chaucerian root, except that like its God it is retroactive, and so changes us wholly, in every room of the expanding house of our lives. Which is to include, of course, not just main and showcase rooms, but attic, cellar, larder, etc. To say nothing of those most exquisitely green, secret, shadowy surrounding grounds and pools (at least when their Gardener is allowed to breathe and rain on them). Redemption always accompanies us to our beginnings, because only from there does any thing move forward. Thank God we have a God to whom time is merely a point on a line that can be shifted at will. How else, indeed, are we going to grasp the totality of any creature (much more any creator), than by loving and knowing its first breath, its most vulnerable and receptive, its most longing, hungering, remembering point? So why the dismissal of infants? Why refuse them, of all creatures, Baptism?

We orthodox Christians confess the Incarnation. Which is to say, our God didn't choose to become and redeem only the pristine, complete humanity of Adam. Notice how He doesn't come barging in on us, Athena-like, as a full-grown, fully-wise adult; rather does He slip in largely unnoticed, He comes "all so still": an all-needy infant, a playful curious child, a difficult adolescent, with real, worrying parents. Jesus embraces the whole of Adam, not just as he came forth from God, but as he comes down to and from us. And so of course the Son encompasses, descends into, excavates, irrigates, cultivates our whole human nature not just at its Edenic pre-eminence, but at its most fallen lowliness, and its most infantine helplessness. Nor does He leave His Deity standing in the doorway (as we might imagine it) - tight-lipped, arms folded, tapping foot - but takes It with Him! through every furthest, most forgotten room, closet, passage-way, window and staircase. Jesus enters into, He immerses Himself in the "very least" of our humanity, so as to saturate every merest cell with no ordinary divinity, but One even we can digest.

Milk for babes, as they say, before there can be any question of solid food. But if the childhood of God leaves us cold, how are we ever going to warm to, embrace, digest, His maturity? If we can't the taste the savor, the riches, the abundance of His mere birth (or even His conception?), how will we ever stomach the poverty of crucifixion?

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