3 Easter – April 26, 2020
So, life is kind of awful right now. It’s awful. We are all adjusting to new realities and grieving the loss of old ones. We are experiencing collective loss. We’re simply trying to manage our daily lives – some of us taking care of our children or parents, dealing with financial stresses, and adjusting to a different way of life. It is stressful, it is anxiety producing. But I want you to know is that no matter what you’re feeling, it’s OK to feel it. I’ve been all over the map. Some days are good, some days are not so good, some days I’m really productive and some days I have to push myself to do anything. And that’s OK. Be gentle with yourself, and try to be gentle with others. We’re in the middle of a difficult journey, we’re in the middle of doing something hard. But we can do this hard thing. We can.
So what does God’s word have to say to us today, in the midst of this difficult journey?
Well, Luke’s gospel has us walking on the road to Emmaus. This scene is set on the same day as the women’s discovery of the empty tomb from Easter. We learn that two disciples are walking, leaving Jerusalem to make the seven-mile jaunt to Emmaus. But why are they leaving Jerusalem? Do they fear for their lives now that Jesus has been executed? We don’t really know. All Luke tells us is that they are grieved about their recent experience. They are talking to one another, hoping to make sense of the nonsensical, when Jesus himself walks alongside them and joins them on their journey.
But they don’t recognize Jesus as he walks beside them. And they tell him “we had hoped”. Such sad words…’we had hoped’. Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. And so, before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, he does two things. He comes along side these grieving disciples and he asks them to name their loss.
Jesus gets them to articulate what they experienced. “What things?” says Jesus. And the response of the disciples is right on, “Where have you been these last few days? Living under a rock?” Yet, the question “what things?” leads the disciples to describe the things, which they have to do — to name the hurt. To name the fear. To name the doubt. And then Jesus picks it up from there and takes it home.
Naming our pain, our grief, our loss, our fear are essential ingredients to moving beyond them. Not erasing them or even leaving them fully behind, but transcending them so that they are no longer what defines us. In other words, naming our pain, creates room to be surprised.
The disciples are disappointed in part because they fundamentally misunderstood how God was working to save the world. Expecting a God of power, they got one of vulnerability. Expecting a warrior God, they got a suffering servant. While the disciples may be disappointed because they misunderstand God’s work, their pain and grief are real and the first thing Jesus does is invite them to name it so that there is now room to be surprised by God’s decision to show up just where they least expect God to be.
And that still happens. When we name our grief, our pain, our disappointment, and our fear in the safety of the community of faith and with the assurance of grace, we find these things have less of a hold on us, they become less of a burden and we discover room to be surprised, once again, by God’s presence, love, and promises.
That’s what Jesus does. What Jesus wants us to know today. Not just that he will show up, but that he will show up and give us the opportunity to speak the truth of our pain; help us make sense of it all, or at least some of it; help us get to a place where we can see beyond just what’s happened; help us to move from “we had hoped” to “the Lord is risen indeed.”
One of the principles of living in the book Find Your Way Home, written by the Women of Magdalene and Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms is number 6 – Take the Longer Path. “There is no shortcut on the spiritual path. The journey to wholeness is lifelong. We walk the path slowly and remind one another that love is waiting for us when we are able to receive it. The journey is slow and miraculous; and our job is just to keep going, respecting love’s power.”
Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? He is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is not judging. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.
Lament takes time. And sometimes lament is the journey that leads us, all of us, to recognition and new life. That new life walks alongside us, patiently, whether we know it or not.
So, my friends, give yourself permission to feel. To lament. And then take a breath. Let your brain tell you that Jesus is with you on this road. Be intentional then about choosing kindness and generosity. Look for those random acts of kindness that are happening right now, today. We all tend to be destabilized when we’re afraid and we also tend to be our worst selves when we are afraid. That may be why the words fear not show up in the bible over 100 times. Fear not. Interestingly enough it is a journey that brings Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. A road is the narrative setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan. A road leads the prodigal son back home to his father. Paul encounters the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus is with us on this COVID-19 road, it just may be very difficult to recognize that. But let’s be intentional about trusting the promise. God is with us, every step of the way.
There are meaningful moments happening now. So, love the world, good people. Just do it safely and creatively, at a distance, for now. Amen.