Easter Wednesday is my favorite day, liturgically, of the entire year. It is during the Octave of Easter and is filled with the joy of the Easter Season, and the two readings for the Mass of the day combine to make a special day.
The first reading tells how Peter and John were going up to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem when they encountered a man over 40 years old who had been crippled from birth and was brought every day to beg at the Beautiful Gate. He asked them for alms, and Peter looked intently at him and told him, "Look at us." The beggar paid attention to them, expecting to receive something. Peter, however, said, "I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk." When Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, his feet and ankles immediately grew strong. Then he "leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God."
The first year I became aware of this passage, I had filled in as lector at the last minute. I was myself in my forties, and I imagined what it would have been like to have been crippled my entire life and suddenly to have been healed. I was sure that I also would have been leaping and jumping and giving praise to God right there in the aisles of the church!
This was followed by the Gospel telling the story of the two disciples traveling on the road to Emmaus, discouraged and heartbroken after the death of Jesus, whom they had hoped was the Messiah. Now their dreams were shattered and their hope was gone and the rumors that some of their friends had seen Jesus alive were simply delusions; no one could come back from such a brutal death. Although traditionally this passage was interpreted as two of Jesus' male companions, Fr. Chuck Gallagher, the founder of World Wide Marriage Encounter, envisioned them as a married couple. Only one of them was named, and after I heard him discuss it, I could easily imagine a husband and wife talking over their disappointment as they walked away from Jerusalem. When a stranger approached and asked them what they were talking about, one of them asked if he were the only person who hadn't heard about what had happened to the prophet from Galilee. When he pointed to every passage from the prophets in Scripture that explained what had happened, the couple were so intrigued that they asked him to come in and stay with them since it was getting toward evening. As they shared their meal, he took bread, blessed it and broke it, and vanished. In that moment they recognized who he was. It was this passage that both my daughter Mary and my spiritual advisor had suggested I ponder throughout Lent, and as we approached the end of the Lenten season, I had written the missing poem that Mary had been asking for almost since she began helping me with my chapbook.
PORTAL OF LIGHT
Trudging back home in despair
our hopes and dreams threadbare,
we’d thought he was the one
but then he was tortured and killed.
We plodded along, tears in my eyes,
disillusionment on your face,
our strength nearly gone.
A stranger approached, we slowed
and moved over to let him pass.
“What were you talking about?” he asked.
Irritation stung me. “Are you the only man
who doesn’t know what happened in the capital
three days ago? How the man who inspired
us was nailed to a cross and crucified?
We had thought he’d save us but he died.”
You added, “Some of our friends
claimed they’d gone to the tomb
and couldn’t find his body—maybe stolen
by enemies. I don’t know.”
Then he began to unroll the scrolls of prophets,
to illuminate verses from Torah to Malachi
revealing the suffering servant, the paschal lamb,
the leader to gather the nations, the great I AM.
We were spellbound. “Don’t leave us—
it’s evening, getting dark, come eat with us.”
He sat silent at table, then pronounced Berakah,
broke the bread and vanished. Then we saw.
Weren’t our hearts on fire?
Weren’t we drawn within his flaming heart
before you took off on your journey through space
like Perseverance roving off for Mars?
Unlike the landing watched by the silent room
of expectant, breathless engineers,
you’d no telemetry to transmit
photos from your new universe
but with all my soul, I believe: you did land,
artisanal, received with love that glows
within the sparks lighting up your soul
blazing with the name he signed
and freeing you to shine.