I don’t know about you, but the road to Emmaus feels a lot longer this year.
Looking back over the last six weeks of social distancing and quarantine, I did not have a true appreciation for what it would mean to “stay-at-home” and close down all non-essential businesses. Sure, its produced some great memes and parents now have a new appreciation for their children’s teachers, but did we really understand what we were getting ourselves into?
We all got an extended spring break, but now that Easter has come and gone and we are breathing down the neck of May and what should be the end of the school year, we are getting a little antsy. There are groups that are pressuring Governors to reopen non-essential businesses. Then there is Georgia, which has declared everything reopened, though her citizens are exercising extreme caution in reengaging right now. And places like Harris County, Texas which have mandated face coverings including homemade face masks and bananas per one news station report that didn’t double-checking their spelling!
We are starting to get a little silly and a little bored. We’ve binge-watched everything good and some not-so-good Netflix. Now we are trying to figure out how to subscribe to BBC in order to watch Vicar of Dibly re-runs. Hang in there. We are doing better than most of the country. New Orleans, Chicago, New York are experiencing a health care crisis beyond anything we might imagine—though some of you are all to familiar with the experience of being in the hospital or having a family member in the hospital without any visitors or someone to help or advocate for you.
Resurrection and renewal can be hidden from us—even when it journeys down the road right next to us. “While they were walking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Take a minute to think about what has just happened—Jesus died on a cross in a public execution. Then somehow his body was not to be found in the tomb in which they had rolled a big stone over and some women, who they had no reason to not believe, said that they had seen Jesus walking around and talking to them. This is not only breaking news, but headlines on TMZ. Now two disciples are walking down the road and some guy walks with them who is apparently the only one in Jerusalem that doesn’t know what’s been happening in Jerusalem lately. This is the modern day equivalent of someone who hasn’t heard of COVID-19 and doesn’t know why we are all in quarantine.
So, these two disciples begin to fill the stranger in on all the news. In the midst of talking about all the things that had happened in the last few weeks and all the things this Jesus of Nazareth had done, they slip in their hopes and dreams—“we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.” “We had hoped…” How often are our hopes and expectations unfulfilled to the point that they distract us from a truth that is even better than what we might desire? I think that is a little like what we are experiencing in the here and now. For most of us, our lives have been pretty blessed—we have good jobs, loving families, our needs are met, as are most of our wants. Our hopes and expectations are grounded in the belief that things will continue going pretty good for us—at least that was our hopes and expectations until the middle of March when everything changed. But now, what we had hoped for doesn’t even seem possible anymore. The truth of our existence seems as surreal as the belief that one man could change the whole world. And yet that is exactly what happened.
Crucifixions, pandemics they distract us from the truth of the world. We get so caught up in the present circumstances we miss the truth standing right next to us. God is in the midst of us—right here, right now just as God was in the midst of the suffering and confusion that two disciples harbored on the road to Emmaus so very long ago. Its easy for us to get so caught up in the anxiety of the moment, we forget the long game—the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot and will not overcome. When we are lost in the unknowing and angst of what it means to live in the darkness of this pandemic, that is the time to be on the lookout for Jesus.
As the two disciples on the road bemoaned their current circumstances, Jesus began to contextualize their particulars within the promises of scripture by opening the scriptures to them beginning with Moses and the prophets. Then he broke the bread and was made known to them. Often, when we hear this story, we associate it with the Eucharist we celebrate in church on Sundays. But when the familiar places that we find Jesus, like church, are no longer available to us, we find that Jesus is made known to us in unexpected places.
In the first weeks of the pandemic and our social distance practices and newfound televangelist capabilities, we began to ask the question regarding how things might be different in how we witness to Jesus Christ after the pandemic was over. In more recent weeks, I have begun to notice connections being made regarding our current circumstances and the monastic experience. I don’t know how things might change, but I do know that in the midst of suffering we are always drawn into a deeper relationship with Christ. Our challenge is not to get lost in all the distractions surrounding life in the midst of a pandemic but instead to search for Jesus in the midst of our brokenness.
If you are having trouble finding Jesus, I might recommend taking the time to read the Bible. The two disciples recognized that their hearts were “burning within us…while he was opening the scriptures to us.” I’ve found a lot of hope in scripture lately—including all those Old Testament stories about famine, pestilence, and plague. Its easy to read those stories and got lost in the suffering—but the thing I have been more drawn to recently is how God is in the midst of those times of hardship and doubt and how the people hold on to their hope that things will get better. And they always do.
We are in the midst of a dark time. It will get better. If you’re feeling lost and abandoned or even bored and frustrated—start looking for Jesus. He is in the midst of our brokenness, even now, two thousand years after that walk along the road to Emmaus. Amen.
Easter 3A: Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; Acts 2:14a, 36-41; I Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:3-35
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Rev. Candice B. Frazer