Tuesday, April 14, 2009

"OPENING UP" - The Easter Verb

The Road away from the Empty Tomb

As we make the transition in this blog away from our Lenten pilgrimage and into traveling together through "troubled times" we find a perfect gospel story in Luke 24:13-35 to start us on our way. Two discouraged and disappointed disciples are on the road home. Their hopes for a Messiah have been cruelly dashed by the execution of Jesus. As they left to go back to their village they even heard confusing rumors that now the body was missing from the tomb. It was all too much -- definitely "troubled times" for them. Luke tells their story by playing on the contrasting themes of "openness" and "closedness".

When we're faced with a threatening or difficult situation our natural tendency is to retreat to a safe position -- reflected in expressions like "circling the wagons" or "don't take any chances." Easter is a time, though, for opening and openness. It comes in spring, the season when the buds begin to open out into blossoms and flowers.
The Road to Emmaus -- Opening Up

Luke wants to show us that the Paschal mystery is all about taking chances and leaving ourselves open in faith rather than losing hope and closing in on ourselves. In telling the account of Christ’s appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter afternoon Luke makes his point by using the Greek verb dianoigō, "to open" three separate times. [Dianoigō, (dee-an-oy'-go) comes from dia- (an intensifier) and anoigō, "to open"] Let's see what we can learn from his use of this word in the story.

The account begins with two disciples walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, sick with discouragement because Jesus, whom they had thought was the Messiah who would set Israel free from the Romans, has been executed. Jesus is dead, and so are their hopes. Then, suddenly, the risen Christ is walking beside them on the road and explaining the scriptures as the three of them travel along together.
The two do not recognize him until, as evening starts to fall, they invite him to stay with them. At this point we encounter the idea of opening for the first time. As the three are seated at table together, Jesus blesses the bread, breaks it, and gives it to them. “With that their eyes were opened [dianoigō] and they recognized him" (Luke 24:31).

When this mysterious traveler had appeared on the road, the two disciples did not realize who he was. As the Greek text says, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (v. 16). Both of the men were caught off guard because Jesus, the supposed Messiah, had been executed, and so their minds had become closed to the possibility that he could still be the Messiah. While walking with them on the road Jesus had been very blunt in rejecting their hopes for a glorious, victorious military Messiah: “How stupid you are! How slow!… was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory" (vv. 25-26)? The risen Jesus was a stranger to them because he did not fit their preconceptions -- they were not looking for a failed Messiah, they were not open to the possibility of a suffering and crucified Savior.

The story continues. As soon as the disciples recognize Jesus, he vanishes from their sight. Then they say to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened [dianoigō] the scriptures to us” (v. 32)? This time it is not their eyes that are being opened, but God's inspired word. In the same way Acts 17:3 describes Paul preaching in Thessal-onika, “expounding and explaining (literally 'opening') the scriptures," namely, that “the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead."

When the revealed word is “opened,” it gives us a glimpse into the single, central mystery of Christ's passion-death-resurrection; in the light of the Paschal event, suffering (the “wilderness experience” if you will) takes on meaning and becomes a deeply mysterious but integral part of God’s loving plan for the world.

Let's catch up with the two disciples one last time; by now they have run all the way back to Jerusalem. As they arrive in the room where the apostles are assembled, they are greeted with “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two start to tell their own story. While they are still speaking, Jesus appears in their midst, greets them and tells them not to be afraid. “Then he opened [dianoigō] their minds to understand the scriptures. And he said to them, ‘Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day…’" (v.45). Once again, “opening” (this time of "minds") is connected with the mystery of Christ's redemptive suffering and death. This time it is the disciples’ minds that are opened. Up to this point their minds have been closed to the possibility that through defeat could come victory, that through death could come eternal life, and that through suffering could come salvation.

Open Hearts, Open Tombs

After the Emmaus episode is finished, Luke continues the theme of “opening” in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. He tells us, for instance, that while Paul and Timothy are at Philippi, they go outside the city on the Sabbath to a place of prayer and speak with the women who are gathered there. One of them is Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth and a worshiper of God. As she listens to them, Luke tells us, “The Lord opened [dianoigō] her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying" (Acts 16:14). This time it is someone's heart that is opened toward Paul, so that she can hear his message about Christ.

So, Easter is a season of opening up, a time for God to open hearts, minds, and eyes, and, of course, tombs. The Lord promises through Ezechiel, "I am going to open [anoigō] your graves" (Ezechiel 37:12). And Matthew shows us the fulfillment of this prophecy at the moment when Jesus dies on the cross: "The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened [anoigō] and the bodies of many who had fallen asleep were raised" (Matthew 27:51-52).

The Perfect Easter Verb

Interweaving as it does the themes of suffering Messiah, death, faith, and resurrection, dianoigō is a unique encouragement to me when I'm facing the difficulty or challenge of the wilderness; it opens my eyes to see Christ's presence as he walks beside me on the road of suffering, it gives me the confidence to allow the risen Lord to open my heart to accept new possibilities, it opens my mind to embrace the mysterious paschal truth that through defeat comes victory, through suffering comes salvation, and through death comes new and eternal life.

May each of us be open to the graces of the Eternal Spring, the new life of Easter!


1. Think of a time when God opened your heart, or your eyes, or your mind. Was this a comfortable experience? Disconcerting? Joyous?

2. During stressful or threatening experiences do you tend by nature to be more open or more closed? In what circumstances would you say that you are most likely to be open to God?

Scripture Search

Other passages where dianoigō or anoigō appear in the Acts of the Apostles offer additional food for meditation: Acts 5:19, Acts 7:54, and Acts 14:27.


  1. Fr. Albert,
    I just stumbled upon this reflection and am blessed by your insights. Today I set out to celebrate the life of a dear friend who succumbed to cancer this weekend after long suffering. The Emmaus story is a wonderful reminder of the "openness" we're called to in our own redemptive suffering.

  2. Denise,
    I'm happy that the Spirit led you to find that reflection just when you needed it -- and that you were "open" to receiving it. I promise to pray for your friend.
    I hope you keep coming back. Thanks!