Emmaus, Janet Brooks-Gerloff, 1992
Luke 24: 13-35
"What is happening, Lord?" I’m sure many of us have been asking this question. I know I have. Things that we used to take for granted are being called into question. The things we would typically find some sense of security in (employment, friendships, family time, future plans) now don’t feel so secure. Conflicting reports abound about the projections of the impact of COVID-19, and everyone has a different option about how to move forward. Rumors abound. Maybe even prayer has been difficult, and God doesn’t even seem to be listening. The hope and assurance of Easter morning may even feel very far away. What is happening, Lord?
As I prayed with today’s Gospel, I was struck by the fact that the disciples on the road to Emmaus were wresting with similar questions. Jesus was dead, that much they knew. The man who they had hoped would redeem and save Israel had been mocked, scorned, and executed. Things felt dark, and perhaps that’s why they were on their way home. After all, with their teacher gone, what were they supposed to do now? Had it all been a lie? Even as they wrestled with these difficult questions, they couldn’t help but remember their first encounters with Jesus. The words he spoke set their hearts on fire as he radically shifted their worldview. He promised that He had the power over sin and death. Jesus preached of hope for a new kingdom, and they knew in their heart of hearts what he was speaking was truth. Jesus spoke of the Father as if He was knew Him, as if they were one. And now there are rumors that the tomb is empty and that some have actually seen him. Could it be true?
As we know, Jesus comes right into the midst of their questions, but he doesn’t reveal himself outright. There is a slow process by which he reveals who he truly is, and even that is wrought with mystery! Maybe you were like me when reading this Gospel, asking yourself: “Why does Jesus have to make it so difficult? Why couldn’t he just reveal himself clearly to them? Why does he hide himself? Why can’t Jesus just appear in all his glory for the entire world to see?” As I was praying with all these questions, I was confronted with another question: “Would it have been better for them if he had made it easier?”
Titian, Christ Carrying the Cross, C. 1565
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” I believe there's a lot of wisdom here. What makes deep impressions on us must take some form of expression in our lives, especially when it comes to suffering. For many of us, this season of Lent has been a painful one, and here we are entering into Holy Week still with uncertainty about what the future may hold. We may feel cut off from friends and loved ones, lonely, and isolated. Many of us are struggling with financial insecurity, and to top it all off, the space where many of us found security and consolation (the church, the sacraments, the Eucharist) feels very distant. Perhaps we are even feeling numb to it all, and that unsettles us a bit. Many of us don't know what to do and feel powerless. Wherever you are is the spot where God wants to meet you. One thing can be sure - this Holy Week is going to be a Holy Week like no other if we understand there is deep meaning in it all.
We often get Christianity very wrong. There’s a tendency to reduce discipleship to following a set of moral teachings. While not erroneous, if we reduce our faith to simply following a set of teachings, we are missing the bigger picture. Being Christian means being joined to Jesus Christ in the most radical and intimate way possible. What does this mean? This means that whatever happened to Him, we must also endure. Where he goes, we must also go. When you and I were baptized, we were joined to Christ in his death and resurrection. The rite of baptism is meant to “speak” through visible signs the reality that is taking place. In the early Church, the person to be baptized was stripped of his or her garments and literally walked down into the baptistry and was submerged into the depths. Then they would come up out of the water on the other side and be clothed in white garments while the minister of the sacrament spoke the words of baptism over them. The old self was stripped away, the person entered into Christ’s death and rose to new life clothed in a new garment: Christ, himself. The visible signs showed the reality of going where he went, being joined to him in his passion, death, and resurrection.
Being a disciple means that the mystery of his death and resurrection must take on a real shape in our own lives. This isn’t a pious platitude…this is at the very heart of Christ’s invitation when he says to you and I: “Follow me.” This means that the cross must have its place in our lives. Whenever we let go of the false piety we sometimes carry around, we begin to carry the true piety that comes with the cross and we realize just how difficult this demand of love really is.
But… “the cross” …what is it? I heard a friend say once that the cross you and I carry takes shape in our lives in two ways. It is the place of our unfulfilled desires that we have deep in our hearts that hurts as well as that place in our lives where we come to terms with our radical need for God. It is the place where we come to say, “I can’t do this, Lord. I need you.” What are the unfulfilled desires deep in your heart? What are the circumstances in your life that give you the raw realization of your utter and absolute dependance on him? What makes you cry out in need of a savior? There is your cross.
When we carry our cross - we do not do it alone. Remember, we are joined to him: where he goes, we must go. The cross is meant to draw us into intimacy with him. This is why carrying our cross is redemptive. It brings us close to him, and it makes us like him. It purifies our ability to love like him - to offer ourselves as a pure and authentic gift. For your gift of self to mature, it must weather the storm. Christ’s gift of self on the cross brought life to the world, and so will ours as long as we are with him in it.
Here is the very Good News: Christ has gone before us to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house. The cross, if we say yes, will give way to the new life we were created to experience that is joy and fulfillment beyond our wildest imagination. Where he goes, we will go.
We are beyond blessed with an amazing community of teens, young adults, priests, consecrated men and women, and families who are striving to live out Christ's invitation to authentic love and who have gifts to share their journeys through writing.