The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls), November 2nd
Luke 24: 13-16, 28-35
Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.15And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
- Have you had any experience that allows you to identify with the way the two disciples were feeling on the road to Emmaus?
- Have you had a personal experience of the presence of a relative or friend who has died? What happened? Were you comforted? Explain.
- . Jesus is present to us in many ways, some of which we recognize and some of which we fail to recognize. In what ways do you experience the presence of the risen Christ?
Luke 24: 13-16, 28-35
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
On All Souls’ Day the church offers us a wide variety of readings from which we may choose: twelve Gospel readings, three Old Testament readings, and thirteen second readings. We have chosen one reading com each group to discuss in its biblical context.
Our Gospel reading begins, “That very day, the first day of the week, 5 salem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.” The “very day” in question is Easter Sunday morning, the day on which Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty.
Our Lectionary reading does not include Luke’s description of exactly what “things that had occurred” they were discussing. In the Gospel Luke tells us that after Jesus, whom the disciples did not recognize, joined them he asked, ” ‘What are you discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, looking downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?’ And he replied to them, ‘What sort of things?’ They said to him, ‘The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us; they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive…’ ” (Luke 24:17-23)
The disciples are downcast because someone whom they love has died. In addition to the loss of separation, the disciples are suffering a loss of hope. Their hope that Jesus would redeem Israel, that is, set Israel free from Roman rule, has been dashed. Besides all of this, would they do now?
Despite their grief the two disciples welcome this fellow traveler whom they do not recognize. They listen to him as he tries to help them find meaning in the events they have experienced. Jesus asks them “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:26-27).
The first thing Jesus did to comfort those in mourning was to be with them. The second thing he did was to listen to them. Finally he shared the living Word with them, just as faith sharing groups do, hearing the words in such a way that they spoke specifically to the situation in which the disciples found themselves.
Our Lectionary reading rejoins the story at this point. “As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, ‘Stay with us “Are not these the words that we all want to speak when a loved one nears death? The disciples certainly wanted to say those words to Jesus; they did not realize that Jesus was already staying with them. Now they invite a fellow traveler to stay with them, not yet realizing that in welcoming the traveler they were welcoming Jesus.
The moment of recognition comes with the breaking of the bread. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” No one can miss the Eucharistic language used to describe this meal. As Luke described Jesus’ last meal with the disciples he said, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me’ “(Luke 22:19). Jesus had already taught the disciples that he would be staying with them after his death. At the breaking of the bread the two disciples understood that their fellow traveler was Jesus and that Jesus has stayed with them. In hindsight they realized that they had sensed something unusual and important earlier when Jesus had been breaking open the scriptures for them. They remark, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?
The disciples now understand that Jesus, although he died, is not dead. Jesus is alive. Jesus is still capable of being with them. This news is too good to keep to themselves. The disciples “set out at once” to Jerusalem. When they arrive they learn that their experience was not unique. They are greeted with the words, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” The other disciples, too, have realized that Jesus has conquered death and is still in their midst. The disciples now understand that Jesus, although he died, is not dead. Jesus is alive. Jesus is still capable of being with them. This news is too good to keep to themselves. The disciples “set out at once” to Jerusalem. When they arrive they learn that their experience was not unique. They are greeted with the words, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” The other disciples, too, have realized that Jesus has conquered death and is still in their midst.
Why did the church offer us this Gospel as a Lectionary selection on All Souls’ Day? There is certainly much that this Gospel is teaching us, whether we are mourning the loss of loved ones or whether we are trying to comfort others who are. First and foremost, our loved ones are not dead. Those who follow Jesus through death also follow him in the resurrection. We have every reason to hope. Our loved ones are not separated from Jesus who conquered death, nor are they separated from us. They are present in new and different ways, in ways that we may often fail to recognize. We can comfort others just as Jesus did, by being present, by listening, and by bringing the good news that we read in scripture into conversation with the lives of those who mourn. And finally we can remember that Christ is present at Eucharist. When we celebrate Eucharist we join in an eschatological banquet that bridges the gap between heaven and earth. Our beloved relatives and friends who are no longer on earth are joining us in worship. We can still pray with and for all souls.
We Shall Find Out
Paige Byrne Shortal
In our parish on the first Sunday of November we sing the Litany of Saints throughout the Communion procession. After all have returned to their seats, we continue the Litany by reverently speaking the names of those in our parish who died during the past year. We also distribute a holy card listing all the names. I have these cards in my Bible, going back almost 20 years.
My good friend Mary, whose name appeared on the list in 2010, once told me that she found this practice comforting because it gave her some assurance that she wouldn’t be forgotten. As if she would be! Our children remember her fondly as their Aunt Bessie, and I so miss my friend. We talked every day, often calling each other when the clock’s numbers were all the same, greet- ing each other with “It’s 11:11” or “It’s 5:55.” Now when our children notice the clock with all the same numbers, they will shout out, “Hi, Aunt Bessie!” and then we talk to her for that minute.
Does she hear us? That’s the big question. Will we be after we cease to be here? Our faith says, “Yes.” Any- thing else seems like such a waste.
Imagine a child in the womb — a sentient child who observes and contemplates. This child notices its eyes and wonders, “What are these for?” (Nothing much to see in there.) And so on with its ears, its hands, it’s mouth. Then this observant, contemplative child is born into this world and realizes, “My eyes are for beholding the one who loves me; my ears for hearing her voice; my hands for touching her face; my mouth for suckling, kissing, speaking words of love.”
Perhaps we should pray to be as observant and contemplative as this imaginary child. What are these for, this mind that longs for the infinite; this spirit that reaches for heights and depths beyond this world; this heart that aches with love? Perhaps when we’re born into the next world, we’ll find out. One of our older choir members died. We invited singers from all the choirs Larry had sung with during his 80+ years. After the funeral, a Baptist singer who had joined us said, “You Catholics really know how to do death.” It’s true. Our liturgy is rich and it works even in the simplest of situations. When someone dies there is little time to be inventive. In grief or exhaustion we fall back on our liturgy — the familiar texts, songs, symbols.
Years ago I got a call at my parish office. A man asked, “Do you sing funerals?” “Of course,” I answered. “How much do you charge?” I explained that it was part of my work for which I was already paid. Then the weird question: “How much notice do you need?”
“Are we talking about you?” I asked as gently as I could. We were. He had AIDS. We met regularly for several weeks and the only way he could talk about his death was to talk about his funeral Mass. He was obsessive about every detail and when I finally questioned him, he said, “I just want everyone there to know I was loved.” I asked who could possibly be there who doubted it and he replied, “Me.” And he wept.
Remembering with love is what All Souls is about, … and finding comfort in the company of mourners. Perhaps today’s liturgy will inspire us to live with courage and compassion, thereby creating fond memories for those who will someday mourn and celebrate our going forth into the bright land beyond.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle A, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2007 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc