Offered for Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO, April 26, 2020 COVID-19 Time
Acts 2:14a,36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17
As I read the Gospel for today, I thought of the collect in Evening Prayer. It asks Jesus to stay with us, because night is near and the day is past, to be our companion in the way, to kindle our hearts and awaken hope that we might know him both as revealed in Scripture and in the breaking of the bread.
This is a time when many of us are afraid and lonely. We miss the people we love, both near and far. Our hearts ache for community and our arms for physical hugs. We want to know we will soon be close again. We strive to remember that Jesus is with us even as we feel alone. We yearn for those moments when Jesus is known to us in the breaking of the bread as we gather again, in the communion of all the saints. We hope that time will come soon.
Surely, the apostles felt that same way. All that was known to them was suddenly gone. One moment, Jesus is with them, telling them that the bread is his body, and the wine is his blood and they are to remember that each time they eat or drink. They hardly have time to consider that before everything changes, and he is gone. This anxiety keeps them from fully remembering that he told them that the Son of Man would suffer many things, be killed and then on the third day, rise again. Or that he promised that he would be with them always. We can empathize them.
Right now, we are hearing a lot about Traumatic Stress and how we are being affected in this unprecedented time. I wonder about the disciples. Can we imagine the trauma of loving Jesus, giving up everything to follow him, going with him everywhere; suddenly he is taken away, arrested, tried, lashed, humiliated, and nailed to a cross? He dies in agony. The grief. Oh my God.
And then, Mary Magdalene and the other women telling them the astounding news that the tomb is empty, Angels saying he is still alive! How can that be!
I can imagine the emotional whiplash they experience as the sensations flash through them. And now, here they are walking with this stranger, telling him of the past few days. It is the third day – What was so different about his physical self now, that they did not know him?
Perhaps they are so caught up in their own shock that they could not recognize him in that place and time. He seems amazed that they do not understand or remember the things they had been taught, so, he begins to teach them. And they listen.
Because night is near, the two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them. So, he does. At supper, the man they still did not recognize takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it, then he gives it to them.
And they know. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us?”
The collect for today says: “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work!”
The eyes of their faith are opened. Even though he is now gone, they know!
Talking with a friend this week about the Gospel and these times, we lamented the idea that we feel as though we are on a rollercoaster with no buffers. Everything seems fine and suddenly with little warning; we plummet into a new low. Those buffers that might ordinarily soften the impact of the unexpected are missing right now. We are extremely vulnerable.
Surely, this must be the way the disciples felt. The highs, the lows, the shock, the grief, the hope, the joy. And all the points in between. Sometimes the memory of the promise of resurrection is lost in the middle of the moment’s anxiety.
Resurrection is a very big deal to believe. Our bodies dying, rising from the dead, life made new, eternally. Forever. It is a promise. Believing in resurrection is THE thing.
We are not “normal” people. We are Easter people. Even in our busiest times, we continue to be an Easter people because we believe in the Resurrection, daring to imagine what our lives in Christ are about.
Resurrection is so much more than we can dare to imagine. Yet we do dare, every time we pray. We remember that to love God, to love one another, to allow ourselves to be born anew again and again by that imperishable word of God. Are not our hearts always burning with that understanding? Even if the disciples were not able to recognize him with their eyes, they surely knew that Jesus was with them. They knew in their hearts, in the eyes of their faith.
Easter is about Transformation. Surely, we are in times of transformation in the midst of this pandemic.
This threat came into our lives, untamed in its potential, unbound within our understanding of normal. This tiny virus disrupted our world. Unwanted, unheralded, what is this tiny thing opening before us? Maybe, even in its chaos and damage, this is an opportunity for us to see with new eyes things that were always before us. `
One of the special things to come from this pandemic is the opportunity to pray with others the Daily Office throughout the week. The number of people who are now praying in this new way is amazing! In our physical separation, still, we can pray with one another any time of day. The same is true for Sundays as we worship with people we love -- online.
Perhaps, this time is an opportunity for us to use what Walter Brueggemann calls the “Prophetic Imagination”, looking more deeply into those things which we often take for granted. Prophetic Imagination asks us to know through faith beyond our fear and anxiety. That does not mean that these fears or anxieties are not real nor that we can make these go away. Simply, it asks us to remember that God is with us always, regardless. That even during the most frightening times, there is something new that God is doing in our lives, with our lives, for us and for this world and that we are a major part of that.
These are anxious times for many who are concerned about housing costs, job losses, grief, or health concerns. For others, it has offered moments of reflection, rest, and possibly boredom. Then there are those in between. We know there are great discrepancies in our societies’ economic levels. What helps the least of these, helps all of us. Thinking about it economically or spiritually, when all have equal access to food, water, housing, education, and healthcare, society as a whole benefits. This is an opportunity to see more clearly the injustices in our society. The prospect of intentionally working towards righting that which is unjust awaits us as we come out of this.
As we look toward to what Dean Kathie Adam-Shepherd calls “re-membering” our parish communities and our society, of once again being with each other physically, hopefully, we will remember the discoveries that we are making. Whether these are the injustices that beset so many, or the amazing awareness of the new spring growth, or the long walks, the moments spent playing or new ways of praying – hopefully, we will hold onto these. We can forget these moments when we are rushed. We do what needs to be done as the demand arises. Yet, if we can hold on to the new awareness, to see with the eyes of our faith, to cling to the knowing that Easter is here, this can carry us into whatever new thing God is doing.
“Lord Jesus, stay with us; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
“The OnBeing Project: Walter Brueggemann – The Prophetic Imagination”
Found on April 24, 2020