I don’t know about you, but this week has been a struggle for me. All of the disappointments and frustrations of this COVIDtide season have been rubbing up against all my baggage, neuroses, internal narratives, and automatic negative thoughts in all of the most unhelpful ways. (It’s a great testament to human narcissism how a global pandemic can feel so darned personal at times!) I’m certainly not alone in this; this is such a big event that it’s hitting many, of not all, of us where it hurts.
No matter how strong and resilient you are, no matter how many tools and resources are at your disposal, no matter how ‘well adjusted’ you are, hard things are hard, scary things are scary, and painful things are painful. There’s no way around it.
This is without a doubt a hard season. It feels like we are being asked to walk down a long prairie road without any sense of how long the journey is going to take or landmarks along the way to mark its passing. All we can do is put one step in front of the other and keep on walking and trust that we’re getting somewhere.
Today’s Gospel reading opens with a similar scene. Two people — followers of Jesus, though not among his close friends — are walking from Jerusalem to a town called Emmaus on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s Easter Sunday, only they don’t know it. Before they left Jerusalem they’d heard some hubbub about Jesus’ tomb being empty and rumours that some of his inner circle had seen an angel telling them he was alive. But they don’t know what to make of it all. After the triumphant expectation of Palm Sunday and the desolation of Good Friday, all that’s left is confusion.
And then they meet a stranger on the road, who is only later revealed to be Jesus. He comforts them and teaches them from the Scriptures. He explains that the crucifixion was not a sign that they had been wrong about Jesus or that God had abandoned Israel. As bad as things looked, and as confusing as things were right now, God was still at work. God was with them in ways they didn’t know.
It’s an interesting detail in the story that it’s not until after they reach their journey’s end that they are able to recognize that the stranger is Jesus. Only then can they see how they hadn’t been abandoned in their confusion and that they had really known it all along in their hearts: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
For us two thousand years later, followers of Jesus who are “those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” whom Jesus calls “blessed,” this is nothing new. But it is a helpful and beautiful reminder nonetheless. As we walk down this strange, boring, anxious, disappointing, lonely road, we are not alone. We put one foot in front of the other, confident that, as confusing as things are right now, God is still at work. God has not abandoned us. God is with us still, in ways we cannot see or know.
Wishing you all a gentle week ahead.