January 15, 2021

Sundays in Easter with Henri Nouwen: May 1, 2016


Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Photo by Thomas Hawk

Sundays in Easter with Henri Nouwen
On the Eucharistic Life

On the remaining Sundays in Eastertide, we are contemplating some words from Henri Nouwen on the eucharistic life. Our main source will be his book, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life.

• • •

Today, Nouwen focuses his attention on the part of the Emmaus Road story where Jesus approaches the two men and begins talking to them. In the course of their conversation, he explains the scriptures to them and how they relate to the events they had recently experienced with regard to Jesus’ death.

Then something happens! Something shifts. The stranger begins to speak, and his words ask for serious attention. He had listened to them; now they listened to him. His words are very clear and straightforward. He speaks of things they already knew: their long past with all that had happened during the centuries before they were born, the story of Moses who led their people to freedom, and the story of the prophets who challenged their people never to let go of their dearly acquired freedom. It was an all-too familiar story. Still it sounded as if they were hearing it for the first time.

The difference lay in the storyteller! A stranger appearing from nowhere yet one who, somehow, seems closer than anyone who had ever told that story. The loss, the grief, the guilt, the fear, the glimpses of hope, and the many unanswered questions that battled for attention in their restless minds, all of these were lifted up by this stranger and placed in the context of a story larger than their own. What had seemed so confusing began to offer new horizons; what had seemed so oppressive began to feel liberating; what had seemed so extremely sad began to take on the quality of joy! As he talked to them, they gradually came to know that their little lives weren’t as little as they had thought, but part of a great mystery that not only embraced many generations, but stretched itself out from eternity to eternity. (p. 39f)

Would that all of us who preach and hear sermons this Sunday could give this report about what we speak and hear!

This passage is one of the best summaries I have read about what the reading and preaching of the gospel should be and do for us.

  • Clear and straightforward.
  • Telling an ancient, yet ever new story.
  • The voice of the living Jesus himself speaking through the readers and preachers.
  • A word that places our lives in the context of God’s story, lifting us up into the great eternal mystery.
  • Offering new horizons of faith, hope, and love in which we may participate.

“For all that matters is that the Word of God be given free reign to uplift and quicken souls so that they do not become weary” (Martin Luther).

• • •

Photo by Thomas Hawk at Flickr. Creative Commons License.


  1. I am reminded of a lyric;
    “When you know, even for a moment, that it’s your time
    Then you can walk with the power of a thousand generations.”
    Jesus illuminated the great play and their small role in it but rather than the expected feelings of inadequacy and smallness they sensed a ferocity of light and meaning. To be one note, from one instrument, in the symphony is sufficient spark to light the fire that never dies. Another lyric from Bruce Cockburn:
    “Let me be a particle of your light…”

  2. dennisb says

    Part of the Eucharistic Life is being illumined by His Spirit.
    It is quite amazing that after being with Him for 3 years, & hearing Him mention His death & resurrection, these guys didn’t know He was walking with them. Maybe they were overcome with grief…maybe they needed the Holy Spirit in a new way ?

    I heard a sermon this morning from Mark 6 where the disciples helped Jesus feed the 5000, but later in the day, they feared for their lives in the boat on the lake, and the scripture says “their hearts were hardened”. This miracle should have linked their minds back to the miracle of manna. That’s astounding. They just had a massive miracle, in a frame referring to their history, but again didn’t recognise God in their midst.

    In John 20, after the resurrection, Jesus breathes on them to receive the Spirit. I’m guessing without the Spirit’s illumination and filling, we are in the same “boat”. What does it take for us to recognise “God in our midst” ? Also, 1 Cor 11, talks of recognising the Body & Blood of our Lord.

    Without the Holy Spirit, we all, “see what we want to see”, but with Him, we being to unite in “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” into one Body with Him.

    Lord, bring on your illumination to us week by week.

  3. >> “For all that matters is that the Word of God be given free reign to uplift and quicken souls so that they do not become weary” (Martin Luther).

    Ball park guess, I have heard or sat thru maybe a thousand so called sermons in my life, including a few of my own. I remember only one that made a lasting difference. That was by a friend of mine who had been asked by a small group of what you would probably call Jesus People to act as their speaker. He was a truck driver, not ordained, not highly educated, he was dyslexic and couldn’t read any books other than the Bible.

    All he did was to read from the Bible and make very occasional comments along the way. I can’t remember what he read, but it was likely from one of Paul’s letters. It was not dramatic, there were no fireworks going off, but it was the most powerful experience of hearing the Word in my lifetime. I cannot explain this. It was not like reading a pericope in a liturgical service. It was not quoting scripture as background for a message. He read for perhaps twenty minutes, half an hour tops, and he stopped. That was it. The Holy Spirit was present. If I ever am given more chances to act as speaker at such a meeting, I hope I remember this and get out of the way.

    This morning I heard a homily. It lasted twelve minutes. That is doable. There was no music, which they do once a month, and which makes it worth getting up for 9:00 and driving twenty miles to have Communion and share the Peace without too heavy a price. I have pretty much run out of patience with sermons, even the twenty minute variety. Give me a break. This past week I went to the first Friends meeting I have ever attended. Seven people, including me. We sat in a circle in someone’s home. There was no spoken ritual other than someone explaining to me what they were going to be doing. We sat quietly in contemplation without speaking for about 45 minutes, the only sound being a ticking clock and someone getting up to put a tea kettle of water on the stove toward the end. At the end everyone stood in the circle and clasped hands silently for perhaps half a minute. Afterward there was tea and pie and friendly talk. I’m going back.

    • Robert F says

      I never heard a sermon that really stuck with me, either, Charles. All the words came and went; nothing substantial was left in their wake. Yet I find traditional liturgical worship meaningful and renewing, even aside from celebration of Holy Communion. Of late, I’ve come to realize that congregational recitation of the Lord’s Prayer has taken on a definite sacramental character for me; I find it both freeing and anchoring in ways that I can’t articulate. Sermons don’t even come close, and I wouldn’t miss them if they were dropped entirely from the worship service.

      • Yes, Robert, the Lord’s Prayer is good, especially when done with the whole congregation clasping hands. The Spirit is there for me whereas for me not during the recitation of the Creed, which increasingly I do not participate in, especially the Nicene, tho I stand so as not to be disrespectful. I wouldn’t miss sermons either, but homilies are often more beneficial than not for me, depending on the preacher. Homilies are something of an art form, or can be.

        Speaking of which, if I absolutely had to choose, I would pick your second version of the haiku, but ideally would include both as sometimes two takes of a tune are included on a CD, maybe done more in the jazz world. They work as a two stanza poem without explanation. It’s a good one.

        • Robert F says

          Homilies can be good, provided the preacher points to God rather than to her own ideas, and spends most of the time getting out of the way.

          I envy you your experience with the Friends; I would emulate it, except that it just isn’t practicable for me as things are, with my wife as director and me as a member of the choir. I hope things work out for you there.

          Thanks for your words regarding the haiku. I like the jazz analogy; variations on a theme.

  4. Robert F says

    Soft rain on my face —
    All day long, grey skies impart
    their benediction.

  5. Christiane says

    ‘Be still’ as a pre-requisite for ‘and know that I am God’ . . . I think the Quakers ‘get it’ . . . and the Catholics who spend time alone in chapel . . .

    Silence provides a space where people are enabled to contemplate the mystery of God without interruption

    • >> Silence provides a space where people are enabled to contemplate the mystery of God without interruption

      Yes, Christiane, I’m convinced this is what Jesus was doing out early in the morning before others got up. Probably could not have done what he did without it.

  6. How about calling this weekly series “Nouwen Then”?

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