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Road to glory

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This Sunday presents us with another account of the risen Christ, this time on the road to the town of Emmaus. This passage is one of the most important texts for understanding the structure, purpose and spirit of Christian liturgy; so many commentaries trace the progression from the opening of the Scriptures to the breaking of the bread. 

But as with every Scriptural passage, the treasures are endless, and the first meaning is never also the last. Tucked into the heart of the conversation Jesus has with the two disciples on the road is a short question. When confronted with the discouragement and sorrow of the disciples, Jesus asks them, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer all these things and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26)

These words lay bare the worldly thinking that underlies the sorrow of the disciples. They are filled with sadness because they still see Christ’s suffering, the suffering of one whom they love, as ultimately futile, without anything but moral value, and in the end, the last word. We can hear their resignation when they say, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel,” (Lk 24: 21). They speak these words as those who have lost hope, for whom the story has now ended. They also betray their understanding of how victory looks. Their expectation had been perhaps pure conquest, a triumph without humiliation, failure or death. They see as the world sees. 

And indeed, if the resurrection had not happened, they would not have been wrong. The disciples view the Passion of Jesus the only way they know how. Christ must now introduce them to a wholly new way of thinking and of understanding the nature of human life. He comes to them from the other side of a glory they have never seen and could not have imagined. 

From the perspective of the risen Lord, all sorrow and suffering is transfigured into the road to perfection. Before Easter, suffering was tolerable only insofar as it gained something, only as a prelude to success, and if the one suffering had to sacrifice, then the victory they won would always carry a note of tragedy. In Christ, something perfectly new has happened: a victory with no dark side for those who share it. The resurrection brings both victory, necessarily achieved at high cost, and healing of every wound, for every person saved. While the ancient heroes like Heracles or Orion might have striven for legendary half-triumphs and carried their wounds and failures with them to the stars, our Jesus stands victorious before his disciples carrying his wounds, not as unremovable scars, but as a signs of love, freely chosen.

It is difficult to express these things because the logic of Easter still remains elusive for us. We have firsthand experience of worldly logic, the logic that tells us that every good thing has a price, and that we must live with the cost of all we achieve. In Jesus, we now see a perfect victory by one who can pay the necessary price and emerge on the other side strengthened, not weakened. The only cost to us is the humility to trust and follow him. It was necessary for the Christ to suffer, yes, but so that he could enter into his glory and bring with him many brothers and sisters across the centuries. From now on, suffering accepted along with Christ in love is the new road to glory for all with the courage to take it. 

Fr. Rampino is chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020