Throughout Lent, I couldn’t help revisiting memories from our recent trip to Israel. The season’s gospels evoked numerous images: The desert patch where Jesus battled temptation; the rocky hillside where Jesus transfigured himself; Jacob’s well where Jesus conversed with a Samaritan woman and changed her life forever. Ancient temple ruins mark the place where Jesus sent the cured blind man to show himself to the priests. John’s gospel regarding the raising of Lazarus brought Nazareth, Magdala and the Sea of Galilee to mind. Lazarus was as familiar with these places as Jesus had been. I shivered as we read the opening gospel on Palm Sunday. In Jerusalem, I’d walked among modern-day crowds where Jesus rode that colt so long ago. Hosannas echoed in the air. “Save us!” they pleaded. “Save us now!”
Scriptural references this Easter Season are equally powerful. On this Third Sunday of Easter, Luke’s gospel reminds us that Jesus’ followers struggled in the aftermath of his death. Though Mary Magdalene and the others brought the remarkable news of Jesus’ rising, all concerned were at a loss regarding what to do next. Those in Jerusalem hid in fear while Cleopas and his companion walked back to their home in Emmaus. On the way, the two encountered a stranger who seemed oblivious to Jesus’ death. Everyone they knew had been affected by this loss, yet this man knew nothing of it. Still, this stranger spent the day responding to the duo’s misery. When he remained to share a meal, he repeated the breaking of the bread. This precious memory clarified everything! It was Jesus who had been with them all the while!
We visited Emmaus our last day in Israel. After keeping a rigorous schedule the prior week, I welcomed the long bus ride from Jerusalem. We traveled to the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along an ancient road which links Jerusalem to the coast. As we made our way to this modern-day Emmaus, memories from the past week filled me up. How would I summarize this amazing week? Everything I knew about God, my faith and Jesus’ place in my life had suddenly become remarkably clear. At the same time, I struggled over how to respond. I had no trouble commiserating with Cleopas and the others as I tasted their uncertainty that day.
When our bus arrived at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Resurrection, I offered a prayer of thanks for this peaceful retreat from my thoughts. The abbey rests on an idyllic patch in the midst of a bustling town. As soon as I stepped off the bus, the beauty of this place drew me in. The scent of a myriad of blossoms beckoned me nearer. After enjoying the outdoors, our guide ushered us indoors. A crusader church rests on this ground which has been inhabited since 6000 BC. Beautiful as the church is, Yossi assured us that more awaited us on the lower level. As we made our way, I imagined the innumerable souls who’d walked the earth beneath me. Cleopas and his friend had made their way here with Jesus in their company. On the lower level, an ancient stream flows as freely as it did in Jesus’ day. There, I listened to the same rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard.
Sometimes, when it seems impossible for circumstances to be better, small gestures blossom into miracles. Cleopas experienced this when the stranger he’d befriended broke bread. While that wonderful stream rushed about him, the joy of Jesus presence filled him up. As I listened to those precious waters streaming beneath us, Yossi pulled his flute from his backpack. Our dear guide had surprised us often throughout our tour with musical interludes. Each one added unexpected beauty to the sites we visited. In Emmaus, as we stood on ground made holy by eight millenniums of humanity, Yossi added a bit of his own holiness. He turned to me and said, “Mary, this is for you.” With that, Yossi pursed his lips and closed his eyes. He gifted us all with the most beautiful rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria I’ve ever heard. I closed my eyes to hold back the tears. As was the case with Cleopas and his friend, my heart burned within me. This week had been such a blessing because God had been with me all the while.
The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God.
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