In our previous reflection, we considered the disciples’ return to Emmaus and the whole problem of God’s burial, which is synonymous with “apparent failure.”
One can get a little taste of their disappointment in the line “we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24:21). However, this is not only a display of disappointment, but also of human desire. The human being is shot-through with desire. Man always wants more, and when he gets it, he wants more of something else. In this way, every person’s story is the same – the human heart is as similar as it is unique. To be human is to desire infinitely, and the blatantly unfathomable, the greatest scandal in the face of the human person is death. It is no wonder that we fight death. We rebel against it. We distract ourselves as a means of protection. Even those who choose death for themselves, if maintaining a psychological equilibrium of some sort, choose it because some other apparent death has befallen them, some destruction of the “I” that shatters or disorients desire.
All the more so in our journey to Emmaus. If ever there was a man who could solve my problems, who could make Rome go away, who could restore the house of Israel, it was this man. Yet this man simply carried his torture-device and gave himself over to death – willingly. These events do not fit into a preconceived box or a tidy category. God is not supposed to act this way.
This is the scandal of the cross. A God who dies willingly. A God whose desires lead him into the tomb, that from the hell that is separation from God, man might be brought into communion with the living God. We will turn again to Cardinal Ratzinger:
The death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. The most obscure mystery of the faith is at the same time the clearest sign of a hope without end. And what is more: only through the failure of Holy Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, were the disciples able to be led to an understanding of all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for them so that he could truly live in them. The image they had formed of God, within which they had tried to hold him down, had to be destroyed so that through the rubble of the ruined house they might see the sky, him himself who remains, always, the infinitely greater. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without him.
Is this not true for us as well? The image of God formed in our minds, the caricature we expect God to conform to, precisely this needs to be destroyed. Then we begin to see the greatness of the seemingly tragic sacrifice.
Into that which definitely stands against all that man is, namely, death, Christ enters. And, He does so victoriously. Christ’s greatness does not lie in his charm, his diplomatic savvy, his military power, or a verbose eloquence. No, it lies in this – his unity with the Father in the Holy Spirit. And, it is precisely this love which goes into the profundity of death and effectively breaks it. If ever Israel would be redeemed definitively, she must be redeemed from death too:
What is death really and what really happens when we descend into the profundity of death? We must be mindful of the fact that death is no longer the same as it was before Christ endured it, before he accepted and penetrated it, just as life, being human, is no longer the same as it was before human nature, in Christ, was able to come in contact with – and it truly did – God’s own being. Before, death was just death, separation from the land of the living and, albeit at differing degrees of profundity, something like “hell”, the nocturnal side of living, impenetrable darkness. But now death is also life and when we pass over the glacial solitude of the threshold of death, we always meet once more with him who is life, whose desire is to become the companion of our ultimate solitude and who, in the mortal solitude of his anguish on the Mount of Olives and of his cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, became a partaker of our solitudes. (Ratzinger
In many ways, the problem of desire with the men on the Road to Emmaus, is the same for all of us. Not that we desire too much, but too little. Israel, blinded by sin, could not see that to be redeemed meant redemption to the core. Anything less would not be redemption; it could not be. To redeem Israel, then, means more than restoration of certain political powers. For Christ, it means an entry into that ultimate divide, the eternal solitude, as a Presence who is Love.
We need the same redemption today, yet we prefer darkness to light and blindness to sight
Lord, we pray that during this Easter season, you would let the Truth of your saving Presence, the same Truth that hung on a cross and was laid in a tomb, would enter into the tombs of our life and shatter our meager preconceptions and airy desires. Grant us new life, we pray.