The lectionary gives us a beautiful resurrection story on Easter, but it's not the story of Easter morning. It's the story of Easter evening found in Luke 24:13-53.
In fact, this story is so dearly beloved by the Church that we hear it three times this year.
Note that the Revised Common Lectionary is a three-year cycle, so this year we hear the road to Emmaus story on the Third Sunday of Easter, but even in years B and C the story appears twice.
I love this story, which appears immediately after the story of Jesus' resurrection in Luke's gospel. It is the first resurrection appearance.
The meal at which the two disciples (one of whom is named Cleopas; the other's name is lost to history) recognize Jesus involves the breaking of bread. And in the same moment that they finally recognize him, Jesus vanishes into thin air.
It's a mysterious story.
Leo Sowerby set a good bit of this story to music (using the words of the King James Version). And it is splendid. Sowerby unspools the threads of this story in his inimitable style. The revelation of Jesus identity is powerful. But just as powerful is the turn that Sowerby takes in the music to accompany Jesus' disappearance. It is a mystery in music. We are left with these very "James Bond" sounding chords at the end of this anthem that let us know that this isn't the last time we're going to encounter the resurrected Christ. He'll be back.
A year ago, I found that this anthem was ideal for an Eastertide Evensong
At the root of the Greek word for beauty (kalon) is a connection to a sense of call. If you have felt your heart stirred by the beauty of the Easter Gospel (whether it was for the first time or the most recent of many times) you are invited to encounter the risen Christ again on the road to Emmaus at Choral Evensong. In this and every service of Evensong, we seek to worship God through word, song, and sight.
Before our first Evensong this season I wrote about Evensong having a sense of “surrender,” but when the presence of God reaches us, even when it is unexpected, we also feel a quickening of our hearts – an awakening. We worship God who is the source of all beauty and calls to us through the same. And it is “in the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act” (John O’Donahue).
This year I find that this marvelous anthem is just right for the Third Sunday of Easter. And I wonder how it's "flavor" will change. I think that the disappearance of Jesus will be just as mysterious at the end, but I wonder how much more revelatory the breaking of bread will be when this anthem is sung in the context of a service Holy Communion in the Easter season.
28 And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. 30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
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