Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that I am a paraprosdokian and on a good day may even be accused of creating a form of syllepsis. Miss Ruth, that eye-rolling, paragon of patience, who has been married to me for the past 33 years, assures me of my innate ability in this area.
Paraprosdokian speech is, as you know, highly regarded by those of us who have a refined and impeccable sense of humor. Such a display was evident yesterday when on Easter Sunday when I mesmerized my congregation with a willful display of paraprosdokian humor:
"A man went to his doctor and said, "Doctor, I think I am becoming a moth." The doctor replied, "I am afraid I cannot help you. I am an internist. You may need to see a psychiatrist." The patient responded by saying, "Doctor, thank you. That is what I had originally intended but when I passed your office I noticed your light was on."
For all of the humor of this story it is clear that paraprosdokian speech causes us to reinterpret or reframe the beginning of a story in light of the story's surprising end.
Yesterday, across the world, millions gathered to celebrate Easter Sunday and here in the US, we not only gathered to celebrate the resurrection, we also enjoyed a holiday weekend with a little warmer weather, the children being off school, and the promise that spring is in the air. That first Easter weekend, however, things were very different.
The days immediately before that first Easter Sunday were days of dreadful sadness and intense pain. The disciples’ dearest, closest friend has been arrested, tried, beaten, crucified, and was now dead. As a result, the disciples were emotionally, physically, and psychologically exhausted. Then some of the women who were with them had been to visit the tomb and claimed the body of Jesus was gone.
In the midst of all of the sadness, questions were now beginning to arise. "Why did this happen? Did it have to be this way? Was there nothing else that could have been done?" And then the biggest question of all,
"If God was truly a God of love, why would He do this to us?"
The disciples were left feeling bereft, heartbroken, and empty inside.
Then, on Easter Sunday afternoon things began to change. Two disciples on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) were met by Jesus, but they did not recognize Him and I have often wondered why. Why did Jesus not simply embrace the two disciples and explain that He had risen? But His primary task that day was not simply to bring comfort to them but to do a great deal more. The greatest need of the disciples that first Easter was to understand the magnitude and significance of what had just taken place. In coming to understand the enormity of God's eternal purposes for humanity, the disciples were to realize that it was because He was a God of love that deep and profound transformation became a reality not only for the two disciples but also for countless millions from that day on.
As the disciples’ story unfolds, it’s clear a great deal took place that afternoon. Conversation, friendship, companionship, and invitation are to be found in the Emmaus narrative, yet what lies at the heart of the passage is so much more. Realization of the resurrection also took place. On the road to Emmaus, the reader knows what the disciples do not; the resurrection has occurred and the fulfilment of the eternal redemptive purposes of God has been fulfilled. Redemption and renewal are now available for the first time in all of eternity, and it’s clear through their conversation that Jesus is not content to leave the disciples as agnostics. As He interacts with them, enabling genuine inquiry, He focuses the conversation on, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:26-27).
Explanation, revelation, transformation, and propositional truth took place in addition to conversation, companionship, and invitation. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?”
Take time this Easter Monday to consider again the magnitude of the resurrection and slowly read again the Road to Emmaus. But please remember, although biblical scholars are not entirely sure of the exact location of Emmaus, Emmaus is the place where the disciples of Jesus were hurting and confused, uncertain and afraid. It is also a place where Jesus meets them at their point of greatest need and "explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself". That Easter Sunday explanation leads to transformation.
The utterly surprising nature of the Easter story is probably the greatest example of paraprosdokian speech to be found anywhere, but what else would we expect from that first Easter weekend when we also see the greatest demonstration of love.
Rev. Dr. Richard Gibbons | Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC
Dr. Gibbons is a native of Scotland and served The Church of Scotland since 1997 as a Regional Development Officer to eight highland presbyteries. He holds joint honors in Ecclesiastical History and Systematic Theology from the University of Glasgow and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Highland Theological College. Reverend Gibbons has been serving as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, SC, since 2007. He and his wife, Ruth, have one adult son, Michael.