A possible Scripture reading for people who are sick and dying is the account of the Lord’s accompaniment of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus on Easter afternoon. So rich and deep, it is difficult enough to digest at Mass on the Third Sunday of Easter. Here, we’ll chop it up into three sections and look closely at each. Then you can decide if it suits for an ill person, or if it fits best of all for the Easter season.
Don’t look now; it’s coming up this weekend. You can ponder, probably from a distance or via your internet connection, a very mysterious and unexpected encounter.
Let’s read verses 13 through 24:
Now that very day
two of them were going to a village
seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things
that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
What on earth does this mean? Are we really such poor believers that we do not recognize Jesus when he is near? Saint Luke’s educated listeners would recognize something as familiar to us as a talk show host’s monologue, a series of questions during a walk that elicit something from inside the disciple:
He asked them,
“What are you discussing as you walk along?”
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?”
And he replied to them,
“What sort of things?”
What we get next is a summary of the life of Jesus. Casual Christians in our day would say pretty much the same, were they prompted:
They said to him,
“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers
both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping
that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see.”
This is basically a creed of Jesus’ disciples at the end of his public ministry. Maybe not a creed, exactly. It’s what would have been written up on the opinion pages of the Capernaum Times.
For an Easter reading, it all seems fine. We look back and remember things about Jesus. We tap into our journey so far. Lent, maybe. Perhaps we’ve had an experience where God, in our perception, has let us down. We had high hopes God would heal us, protect us, restore us to some ideal state of comfort and joy.
You can check the video Bible Study I prepared for my parish on this link. There, I discussed a bit more the context of Easter’s Third Sunday. But it strikes me that not only does this passage draw us into the experience of the Eucharist, but it also provides a template for dealing with the disappointment of serious illness.
Let’s be honest: misfortune hits us. It can be the first thing we do, blame God. Apparently, other plans are afoot. I don’t know about you, but this reading inspires me to go take a walk. Maybe I’ll find a surprise companion with me. If questions aren’t tossed my way, I might throw a few in the Lord’s direction myself. I think we can do that, eh?
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.