Devastation and Sacrament on the Road to Emmaus

Allison Connelly

According to the liturgical calendar, Easter is not a feast that the church celebrates only one day of the year.  The seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost Sundays are called Eastertide, when the church reflects scripturally on the mystery of the Resurrection. 

Bondings 2.0 has created the “Out of the Tomb” series to present reflections on the liturgical readings for these Sundays and Ascension Thursday for our LGBTQ and Ally readership. You can view the readings for today, the Third Sunday of Easter, by clicking here.

Today’s post is from Allison Connelly. Allison is a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary studying liberatory approaches to disability theology. She identifies as queer, disabled, Catholic, and United Church of Christ, and is a co-author of Dear Joan Chittister: Conversations with Women in the Church.

Well, it happened: against all odds, Easter still came. I have to admit, I felt like the Easter Grinch during the last few weeks of Lent, convinced that with all the pain and suffering in the world right now, Christ would stay in the tomb this time. And honestly, for me, even though we marked the day that Christ rose two weeks ago, it still feels too soon to celebrate Easter. I am more grateful than ever that Easter is a fifty-day liturgical season and not a one-day Hallelujah chorus. After reflecting on today’s Gospel story of  the Emmaus encounter, it brings me comfort to wonder if the disciples felt the same way that I feel now.

Walking the road to Emmaus, the disciples were recounting the story of Jesus’ crucifixion – and the rumors of resurrection – when a stranger approached them. The disciples were “downtrodden,” or, I would venture, devastated. The One whom they had hoped would redeem Israel and overthrow Roman occupation had been killed. Jesus’ death wasn’t an accident. He was a Jewish man targeted by an empire systematically oppressing the Jewish people. His body disappeared before it could be anointed. Jesus’ death devastated his friends on both a personal and a political level.

This year I strongly connect with the disciples’ devastation. So many people have been killed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and so many bodies have gone without the rituals that we expect: no funerals, no wakes, and often no anointing. Many of those who have been affected by COVID-19 have died or been harmed due to systemic factors like being forced to go to work in order to pay rent, by ableism via the rationing of medical supplies, by white supremacy manifesting itself in the treatment of Asian and Black folks, or by systemic racism which perpetuated an unjust health care apparatus. This pandemic devastates us personally and politically.

Beyond the pandemic, I connect to the disciples on the road to Emmaus as a queer Catholic woman devastated by the treatment I receive from the institutional Catholic Church. One of the worst conversations I have ever had happened immediately after I came out. Taking a chance, I asked a Catholic (then-)friend what she thought about my sexuality. She answered with the words that often come from representatives of the Church: I was going against the will of God and I was defying my creation. She claimed it was “beautiful” that I could never marry in a Catholic Church. I was devastated, both by the words she spoke and by the Church which had taught them to her.

Four years after that conversation, as I prepare for my upcoming queer, Catholic wedding, I connect again with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. It feels too soon to recognize hope and possibility in the institutional church, just as it felt too soon for the disciples to recognize resurrection in the stranger-Christ, while two church leaders blame the pandemic on the sins of LGBTQ folks. I ask myself often: why do I claim this Church, when this Church will not claim me?

Even as I ask the question, I connect in yet another way with the disciples in their failure to recognize Jesus. I, too, have often failed to recognize God, not only in others, but in myself. It is easy for queer Catholics to internalize the messages we receive from the institutional Church. We are told that we are not enough: for community, for leadership, for sacrament. Yet, it is in sacrament – in the breaking of the bread – that the disciples recognize Christ, and it can be in sacrament that we recognize ourselves. Maybe that self-recognition comes from Eucharist in a church. Maybe it comes in the communion of drag brunch on a Sunday afternoon rooftop, hymns by Beyonce and Janelle Monae playing in the background. Maybe our self-recognition lies in the confirmation of coming out, when we say “yes” to the Spirit which moves in our blessed and beloved sexualities. Maybe our sacrament is in the holiest of orders we receive from our queer communities: to support one another, to care for one another, and against all odds, to rise together.

As I continue to acknowledge my grief – for the pain of the virus, the sins of the world, the failures of the Church – it helps me to remember that the disciples did not recognize resurrection until after a long journey with Christ himself. Even when Easter feels like a stretch, I can connect with the journeying, and, just maybe, with the recognizing, too. Whether our journeys wrap up nicely by Pentecost or last for many years beyond, may we be reminded that whenever we journey with and recognize ourselves, in community and in sacrament, there too is God. Amen. Alleluia!

Allison Connelly, April 26, 2020

5 replies
  1. Peter Mangini
    Peter Mangini says:

    Allison,
    I would just like to say thank you for your powerful & inspiring message, it is beautifully written & heartfelt!
    Thank you! You are an inspiration to us all!
    In the Peace of Christ,
    Peter

    Reply
  2. FR. Paul Morrissey
    FR. Paul Morrissey says:

    Wonderful! Thank you so much, especially the reference to not recognizing Jesus Christ Alive in oneself before coming out, and the parallel of the Church largely not recognizing its Lord in LGBT people and their experience. The Road to Emmaus may take a long time, and then one day “at the crossroads” we (the Church?) offer a gesture, “It’s late; come in to dinner with us.” That movement to invite a stranger to “stay with us”–even if it is offered to ourselves–opens the door to experience “our hearts burning within us” and to turn back towards Jerusalem. Oh how great! Thanks again for this beautiful Alleluia reflection.

    Reply
  3. Yolanka
    Yolanka says:

    My gratitude, Allison, for your exquisitely expressed thoughts on Easter, especially the Emmaus journey. Your insight, developed on many levels, was powerful and poignant, with sincere transparency on each page.
    At 87 years, a straight woman, with a LGBTQ network of close friends, I have witnessed their struggle, combined with deep hope, for acceptance, in their church, society.

    Holding you, the LGBTQ intention, in my prayers and always in my heart.

    Bless you!

    Reply
  4. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I wish my sisters, and Bishop Barron, would read this reflection with their heart, and not from their position. It hurts so much they don’t see it.

    Reply

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