Emmaus Road

The Verbness of Easter

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

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Kris Rocke
Tacoma, WA  |  U.S.

We are in the third week of Easter and the celebration continues.

In his poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, uses easter as a verb. We’ve written about this before because his newly crowned verb and the context from which it arose are so powerful. It is a poem in honor of five nuns who died in a shipwreck in 1875, after being exiled from Germany in the face of persecution. At the end of the poem, Hopkins prays, “Let Him easter in us…”

What a prayer!

Hopkins is suggesting that Easter is not only an event that happened 2,000 years ago, but also a present reality that is happening today. In other words, Easter is not only a noun, but also a verb. It is a verb that reveals God at work even in the worst of tragedies.

Notice how the prayer places the burden of Easter on God, where it belongs. Contrary to popular religion, Easter is not about mustering up the will to believe in the Resurrection. No, the burden of Easter is squarely on God, and it always has been. It’s on God to easter in us and call forth life. God takes responsibility to create the conditions that make belief possible. This is what we mean when we say that faith is a gift. God easters in us until we can finally receive the gift being given.

I can’t prove this, but if I had to guess, I am pretty sure that God views our “unbelief” as primarily his responsibility, not ours. It’s God’s eastering that creates in us the capacity to believe. And so, God keeps eastering in us until there is nothing left to easter.

But this still begs the question — how does God easter in us?

This week’s text gives us a clue. The resurrected Christ appears to Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus as a “stranger.” They don’t recognize the stranger as Jesus until after they break the bread that evening. And can we really blame them for being so slow? It’s a miracle it didn’t take them years to finally see what was revealed that day.

What could be more difficult than coming to the painful realization that we have participated in the betrayal, lynching and murder of the one who is now walking alongside us, eager to forgive us for the very thing we are not even quite sure we’ve done.

Perhaps now it makes sense why our friend James Alison calls Jesus, “The Forgiving Victim.” This is the relentless and liberating truth of the Gospel. This is how God easters in us. It is the forgiving victim who walks with us on the road to Emmaus. He becomes our teacher and makes our hearts burn within. It is the forgiving victim who hosts the meal of our salvation and finally opens our eyes. What could be stranger than that?

Finally, I am told that “easter” was also used as a nautical term which means “to set sail for the light.” I love this! It’s poetic. God easters in us as the forgiving victim, so we can set sail for the light. How else does New Creation unfold? How else do we become fully human?