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.”
Last year I was in the hospital on Ash Wednesday. In 2019 the day fell a week later than it does this year. I experienced a setback after my February surgery. I went into the clinic on Monday of that week simply to have my staples removed, but the nurse didn’t like what I was telling him about what was going on with me. I ended up spending the day in the urgent care waiting room, having blood work done, then a CT scan, and eventually being transported to Kaiser hospital where I remained until Saturday. Of course it took me a few weeks to recover to the point where I could be out and about, so I missed the better part of Lent last year.
This year I decided to be deliberate in marking the change of season and being aware of the space and time of Lent. I phrase it that way because I am not terribly good at implementing or following a Lenten discipline. Nonetheless I want to be aware of where we are on the liturgical calendar. And who knows, perhaps I can coax myself into some kind of Lenten practice.
Awareness of Lent makes for a more joyful Easter, I do believe.
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.
Some years I am ready for Lent. Other years I am not. This year I was not.
I missed the Last Sunday after Epiphany because I was without my hearing aid. I missed Ash Wednesday for the same reason and because Tasha was in serious need for a trip to the groomer and Terry was working.
I was, however, made very much aware of the season on the first Sunday of Lent. We did the Great Litany. Sigh. “From the Great Litany, Good Lord deliver us,” Father Phil in Morgan Hill once said.
We are now deep into Lent, and I’m just not there with it. It’s simply one of those years, I suppose.
Yesterday was the Feast of the Presentation, the story and song of Simeon found in Luke 2:25-35. The Latin version of the Song of Simeon is Nunc Dimittis, which I shared a couple of weeks back. This is my favorite version of the Song of Simeon in English, both because of the music and because of the message conveyed in the video. If you are stressed by the current political climate please listen and watch.
I’m not sure why the liturgical calendar has the presentation of Jesus in the temple on 2 February, well after the baptism on the First Sunday after the Epiphany. I don’t want to wait until then to hear the Song of Simeon. So here it is today.
George Dyson’s Nunc Dimittis in D, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
Lent already. We’re only a third of the way into February and it is Ash Wednesday. Easter is early this year: 27 March, so Ash Wednesday and Lent are early as well.
I have long thought of Lent as being a long, drawn-out season and Advent being a short, fast season. But I looked at the liturgical calendar a while back and I realized that there is only one more Sunday in Lent than there is in Advent. Sure doesn’t seem that way. I guess it’s the different nature of the two seasons.
So here we are. The journey begins.
I sometimes wonder about the lectionary selection for a given Sunday or holy day. What were those lectionary elves (to borrow a term I love from an Episcopal priest) thinking? Even more arcane is the church calendar. Why would the presentation of Jesus at the temple be on 2 February? After all it comes on the calendar after the Baptism of Jesus. But 2 February it is, and I wanted to observe it today because it contains, to me, one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible.
The author of Luke tells us that Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” and that “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” When he sees Jesus in the temple Simeon says:
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.
There are, of course, many beautiful musical evocations of this passage. Here is one of them, with an added message about the power of the Social Gospel.
Today I am ready to try, at least, to leave behind the cynical realism of W.H. Auden, and embrace the hopeful optimism of Howard Thurman.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To make music in the heart.
There are two passages I have used at Epiphany in the past. One is the optimistic, hopeful vision of Howard Thurman. The other is the somewhat cynical, but to my mind very realistic and accurate perspective of W.H. Auden. This year I am vacillating between the cynical and the hopeful, so I am bringing you both. Today the cynical realism of W.H. Auden. Tomorrow, on the actual day of Epiphany, the hopeful optimism of Howard Thurman.
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.
—W.H. Auden, from For the Time Being
And this year Lent is indeed not very far off. Ash Wednesday is early this year. It falls on 10 February.
And so we continue our journey.