Today we have a Sunday morning lectionary occurrence that happens only once every three years: the reading of the Emmaus story. True, the story is in the lectionary for Easter evening each year, but for Sunday morning it is only found in Year A, the year of Matthew, on the third Sunday of Easter. This is one of those oddities perpetrated by those lectionary elves, as the Emmaus story appears only in the Gospel of Luke.
The Emmaus Road passage is my favorite narrative in the Bible, and I have written about it many times. You’ll recall that in the story Cleopas and his companion encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him until he has departed. One interpretation of the story suggests that Cleopas’s companion, due to not being named, was a woman. This has to do with the mores and conventions of first century Palestine; since Cleopas is named had his companion been male he would also have been named. I have always rather liked this idea and so for this week’s Good Shepherd e-news I selected the image on your left.
In the days when we were able to meet in person for worship I would always sit in a pew at Good Shepherd near the stained glass window on the right. I always thought that this depicted the Emmaus story, but in a video we created when we were searching for a rector a relative of the person who to whom the window was dedicated said that it was the Last Supper. Oh, well. Then again, as my spiritual director pointed out, perhaps they’re the same story.
What is important about Emmaus, however, is this, in the words of the Rev. Dawn Hutchings, “Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.”
This is one of those years. Today is Valentine’s Day. It is also Ash Wednesday. This year Easter falls on April Fools Day. It is the sort of cosmic goof that Tom Robbins wrote about in Another Roadside Attraction. I never knew that the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter matched the time between Valentine’s Day and April Fool’s Day. There’s got to be some significance there, though I’m not sure what it is.
To add another layer, after reporting to training camp yesterday the Dodgers pitchers and catchers had their first workout today.
I’m not sure what it’s all about, Alfie, but maybe we can figure it out. Or maybe we don’t need to.
Not long after Easter I wrote about the stained glass window under which I sit each week and how I thought it must be the Emmaus story. I was wrong. I recently had the opportunity to view the final version of our Good Shepherd video, which one of our very talented members created as part of our rector search. It turns out that the window was meant to depict the Last Supper. There are only two disciples in the image, so to me it could be Emmaus. On the other hand, the presence of the chalice indicates the Last Supper, as the Emmaus stort only mentions bread and not wine.
Speaking of the video, it was a long time in the making, but I believe it was well worth the effort. It provides a good history of the congregation as well as a nice picture of who we are today. You’ll notice that I have a small part at the very beginning. I was happy to be part of the project.
I briefly considered skipping church this last Sunday. Fr. Rob, our interim rector, was away, so we had Morning Prayer rather than the Eucharist. However Sunday was Easter 3 in Year A. Those of you who have been reading my blog for several years will know what that means. It is the only time in the three year Sunday morning lectionary cycle that we have the Emmaus Road story. This is odd, because Emmaus is found only in Luke, and Year A is the year of Matthew. But it is what the lectionary elves have decreed.
The Emmaus story has long been one of my two or three favorite Bible passages. It gained additional meaning when the chaplain chose it as the scripture reading for my grandmother’s funeral in 2006. The only time I have ever opened up a Gideon Bible in a motel was that evening in order to revisit the passage.
Each week at church I sit next to this stained glass window. The window lists who it is in memory of and who donated it, but it does not offer a scripture reference. It must, however, be the Emmaus story. I can’t think of any other passage in the Bible that it could represent. Note the figure on the left is a woman. In the passage only one of the two travelers on the road is given a name: Cleopas. The other is left unnamed. Given the norms of first century Near Eastern society this suggests that the other traveler may have been a woman. Of course in that society a woman would only travel with her husband or a close male relative. So perhaps the other traveler was Cleopas’ wife.
Often this scene is depicted with two men, so I love that the stained glass artist depicted one of the people as a woman for our window. And I love having this window sitting over my shoulder each Sunday. While it is unlikely that the story is historically true, it is a reminder of Christ’s presence with us.
As John Dominic Crossan wrote, “Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens.”
First Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, Plymouth Choir and congregation, arrangement by Jeremy Bankson, Associate Minister of Music
It is still Easter, so please enjoy this Ralph Vaughan Williams classic. This version comes from St. John’s Detroit.
It should probably be no surprise given the Anglican roots of the American Episcopal Church, but this hymn appears in three different places in the 1982 Episcopal hymnal: Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.
As I said, enjoy!
I wrote last week about attending the 8:00 a.m. Rite I Eucharist at Good Shepherd Episcopal. Despite my unfamiliarity with the language I felt comfortable at the service. I did take care to wear my Good Shepherd name tag, so the denizens of the Rite I service world would know that I was not new to Good Shepherd, even if I was new to the 8:00 service and Rite I. Everyone there was very friendly and gracious. It was a good feeling.
What was strange for me was when I went forward to receive Communion. I felt like a complete and total newcomer. But at the same time there was a real feeling of connection.
It’s not something I understand, but Communion is not something we understand with the left side of our brains, is it?
Jesus Christ is Risen Today, First Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska
After all there are seven Sundays in Easter, and it remains Easter right up until Pentecost, which this year is 15 May.
I don’t like getting out of bed early on a Sunday, but I did so yesterday. I knew that my normal 10:30 a.m. Rite II Eucharist at Good Shepherd Episcopal would be absolutely packed on Easter, and I knew that parking would be something of a headache. I also knew that I would be hard pressed to get back home in time for Easter brunch reservations with Terry and my dad at the lodge here.
So I got up early and attended the 8:00 a.m. Rite I service. At Good Shepherd the Rite I service has no organ, no choir, and no music. Easter is no exception. I had never attended a Rite I service before. We used a small portion of the Rite I liturgy on Ash Wednesday this year, but aside from that I have only experienced Rite II.
Rite I would not be my choice for worship on a weekly basis, but I am glad that I had the experience. Some of the Elizabethan language is quite soaring. This part of the Eucharistic prayer stood out for me:
[Remembering] his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension;
rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable
benefits procured unto us by the same.
And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins,
to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept
this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits,
but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord
It’s not a Malcolm Boyd style of prayer to be sure, but it is powerful in its context.
Next week I plan to be back at my usual Rite II 10:30 service with the choir, the magnificent pipe organ powered by our superb organist Jean, and the more contemporary language, but yesterday’s journey was one well worth having taken.
Ascension Day is next Thursday.
The choirs and congregation of Mount Olivet Church, Arlington, VA, on Ascension Sunday, May 23, 2004, conducted by Bob Swift, Organist/Choirmaster.