By Brother Luke Henkel SVD
The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us!
Life is unfolding everywhere around us in May. It’s blossoming, burgeoning and bursting. The mornings are fresh and brilliant—at least the last few here in Chicago, after some pretty wicked storms for a few days. The sun is shining and our seminary is out for the year. Lots of new beginnings are taking place this spring for many Divine Word Missionaries in the Theologate community in Hyde Park.
This, my friends, is a season that makes me think a lot about hope and the story of the disciples going toward Emmaus. For me, the glory and wonder of spring is the Easter mystery.
As I think about the Word, Jesus—living among us and then dying on the cross and leaving behind his disciples, the women and his mother, and everyone else around him—I can’t help but think about the beginning of the Gospel of John and about this season that we’re in now.
John’s Gospel says the Word was made flesh, and DWELT among us—past tense. Historical. But as spring reminds me, Jesus didn’t just dwell among us once and then go. He wasn’t just here and then gone, leaving us to stew in our own misery and confusion. He didn’t just die and depart and that was that.
Jesus came back.
He came back. He resurrected and beat sin. He vanquished the darkness of sin and death and more than that. He came back to the disciples as they were despondently and miserably walking along to Emmaus—after they decided that all hope was gone and that there was nothing left for them to do but return to their old lives.
The disciples were downcast because they’d put all their hope in Jesus and look what happened. They’d given up everything to follow him because they believed he’d be their savior, that he’d truly bring all that he’d promised. (And he promised a lot.) And then, everything fell into the worst disarray and chaos they could have imagined.
To say they were downcast is possibly the biggest understatement in the Bible. Can you even IMAGINE how many emotions they must have been feeling? Downcast, yes, but also rage. Fear. Resentment. Bitterness. Hopelessness. Helplessness and despondency. Surely, regret too. They must have been asking themselves, what had they just abandoned their lives for and where was the pay-off? What did they have to show for all their faith, hope and trust in Jesus?
No wonder they wanted to get back to what they knew, back to fishing, back to some sort of normalcy.
And then guess what. He showed up on their journey. He came back, on this dusty path on the outskirts of Jerusalem, as they were meandering, heads down, away from what had just happened.
Jesus came back.
Jesus came back to visit his friends on their journey from the city. Immediately after this scene, he visited the disciples again and walked through the wall to say, “Peace.”
Given all the mighty, magnificently cosmic effects of the Resurrection, the most powerful thing Jesus could have done was come back to his disciples. The most important thing that Jesus did was to remain with them, walk with them to Emmaus, and stay with them so they could have a meal.
This is the Easter mystery. Sometimes we get caught up in defining the Resurrection itself, and we talk about all that it meant for humanity and for the conquest of life over sin and death.
These conversations ring true, but we’ll never grasp the totally overwhelming mystery of what happened to Jesus in the Resurrection.
But, we can understand what Jesus did on the way to Emmaus. We can understand a long-lost friend showing up alongside us after being gone. We might not grasp where he’d been and what he’d done, but we don’t necessarily need to understand. We can rejoice in the simple fact that he’s here again in front of us. We can then feel our hearts burning within us, as the disciples did once they understood it was Jesus.
We don’t have to understand the cosmic, universal, overwhelmingly transcendent mysteries of Jesus’ Resurrection in order to feel it. In fact, perhaps the feeling comes first. When we experience Jesus coming back for us, there’s a joy that can’t be defined, a burning, a goodness that has no word, no definition and no limit either.
We might not understand the technicalities of rising from the dead but what’s so beautiful about Jesus showing up again to the downcast disciples is that he’s telling us, “That’s alright.” We don’t need to understand. We just need to see and hear Jesus, and we know he came back for us.
Even though we sometimes feel misery, despair, bitterness, fear or resentfulness, Jesus came back for us. He’s right here. We might not recognize him at first, but we will know it’s him if we pay attention to that feeling, that burning within us. We’ll know.
That burning, my friends, is the Easter mystery. It is life, hope and goodness swelling up inside and overtaking the cells, flooding them with life, light, hope, energy, with the desire for every cell, every mitochondria, ribosome and enzyme to scream and shout the words: “LIFE IS SO GOOD!”
This is what happens during spring. It’s what the flowers and the trees are doing—and it’s what we do when we breathe in the fresh air and take a closer look at a blooming flower or at the hundreds of colors on one single tree. It’s what happens when we attend Mass because this is the most life-giving celebration we have as faithful people.
In every way, may this spring be an awakening, a chance to see the glory, goodness and LIFE that God gives us, not just through some hugely cosmic event but from coming back to see us, to share a meal and the Scripture—to spend more time with his beloved because he can’t get enough of us.