Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us!
Way back in the late 1950’s a priest friend of mine told me of a recent pilgrimage he led to Rome – by charter flight. The plane was not a jet but a Lockheed Constellation model with four propeller engines and its well-known twin tail. It was an evening flight and the cost was cheap and my friend and his flock soon found out why. As they settled into their seats, the passengers next to the curtained windows on either side drew back their curtains only to find there were no windows at all. They were in a disguised flying boxcar. They were overcome by claustrophobia, felt trapped – and for how many hours?
What a metaphor for our own journey down through time! We are no sooner born into this world and into a particular culture of this world – be it high society, the working class, secularism, agnosticism, nationalism, tribalism of one sort or another – and without realizing it we are flying through time in a boxcar without windows – the interior of which is the only world we know. Or you could say we are deposited into a corridor of time, a compressed expanse of thought and experience that is ignorant of the wider expanse of God’s creation wherein we may find “fullness of life” instead of cramped minds and imaginations.
You may remember my mentioning Lily Bart, the main character of Edith Wharton’s novel The House of Mirth. Lily was born into one of those narrow corridors known as high society, grew up to seek a wealthy husband and live off the dividends of prosperous ancestors, play bridge, visit the casinos of Monte Carlo, live from one weekend party and opera season to the next, enjoy fancier curtains to cover the non-existent windows of her set’s flying boxcar. And when the blessed opportunity to break out of her containment came along, she couldn’t do it.
As she says to the man who could open up her world: Once – twice – you gave me the chance to escape from my life . . . I saw I could never be happy with what had contented me before. But it was too late . . . I was just a screw or a cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else. What can one do when one finds that one fits into one hole? One must get back into it or be thrown out into the rubbish heap.
This Easter Season gives all of us a chance to step out of our narrow corridors, our narrow-mindedness into the big world of our Risen Christ – a world of grace and constant revelation. A great theologian of the 20th century once described the 40 days of Christ’s appearances to his disciples as the intrusion of real time and space into our narrow corridors of time and space, where like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we fret about recent events, the frustration of our narrow hopes, our preconceptions, even the petty things that bug us.
And along comes Jesus on these Sundays to walk with us, to draw us into his world beyond the shadow of death. He speaks to us in our Scripture readings, he dines with us at our Eucharist, he breaks bread with us – in hopes that in this breaking of bread we may experience a breakthrough into a world of universal grace and beauty – uncurtained, uncramped, uncoffined from this day forth.