One way I have been surviving this pandemic, is to be outside. I have been walking more than I ever have and noticing more than I did before. For instance, I hear and see many different types of birds, notice the wind and rain patterns, and feel the freedom of wide-open spaces.
Imagine that you are walking on the Monticello Trail, or a neighborhood walk or in your yard talking to a friend, and a stranger approaches you and says, “What are you talking about? What stay at home order?” You would feel incredulous. “Where have you been for the last few months?” How would you explain what has been happening? Where would you start? You could start with the science or economics of it—but you would eventually get to your feelings about what is happening. What are your feelings about what is happening in your life now?
This is the situation this week in Luke’s gospel about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Two disciples, one named Cleopas, are leaving Jerusalem. Earlier in the day, the women had returned from the tomb announcing that it was empty, and they had seen Jesus alive. Their reaction to that was to leave Jerusalem and go home. As they are discussing the strange events of the last days, a stranger overhears them and asks, “What has happened?” Their response is, “Are you the only stranger who does not know these things that have taken place?” They tell the stranger about the great prophet handed over to die, but the women said that the tomb is empty, and they saw him alive. These disciples don’t know what to believe. They are deeply disillusioned and so are we. They say, “We had hoped…”
Bishop Susan Goff, in her weekly address to clergy, noted that in this particular time in our pandemic, there are stages to our response to crisis. Paul Walker put some of this in an email to the congregation this week, too.
The first stage is immediately when a crisis happens, there is grief and loss accompanied by heroic actions and a feeling of everyone pulling together. Later, there is the Honeymoon or Acceptance phase, when we acclimate to a changed reality, while remaining committed and courageous in community. You say to yourself, “Ok, so this is what I have to deal with. I can have a new schedule. Deal with being at home.”
Then there is an emotional trough stage called Disillusionment. Our patience is strained, and anger is unleashed. We realize our limits and our optimism turns to discouragement. We may have feelings of abandonment and exhaustion. I believe that we are at this stage—and we can hear this disillusionment in the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their disappointment sounds like, “We had hoped…” that this Jesus would save us and save Israel. He was a great and mighty prophet but now He’s gone.
Do you feel like that, too? We had hoped that things would be different by now.
We had hoped… to be back at work or school.
We had hoped…to go to Prom this spring.
We had hoped…to graduate this spring from UVA, PVCC, high school or wherever.
We had hoped…to be financially secure but now we are spending our savings.
We had hoped…to visit Mom or Dad, grandma or grandpa at the Nursing Home or in the hospital but they won’t let us in.
We had hoped…to still have jobs but we’re on unemployment now.
We had hoped…to not be alone.
We had hoped…to get married but the wedding was postponed.”
There’s also that part of ourselves that was disillusioned long ago—maybe in childhood or a time that we prayed, and it didn’t seem like God answered. We adopted the unspoken rule, “Don’t get your hopes up because you will be disappointed.”
Martin Luther said of this passage about the road to Emmaus that we, “despair in trusting ourselves but God’s word remains firm and will never fail.” We can face the reality of our disillusionment and disappointment when we understand that human understanding is limited, and we do despair in trusting in it. And what is God’s word in this passage that will remain firm and never fail?
Jesus tells the disciples of all of God’s promises that were fulfilled by his birth and death, from Moses through the prophets. By doing this, he also assures us of God’s trustworthiness through the ages until the end of the age. When he blesses and breaks the bread, the two men’s eyes are opened. In this simple act of ritual and worship, they see Christ. We, too, experience this in a simple liturgy of morning prayer and we hear of God’s promises to us again and again.
Jesus assures us, as he does the two disciples on the road, that He is not just a prophet, mighty in deeds, but the Messiah promised through recorded time, to be our savior and redeemer. Yes- we do despair in trusting in ourselves—trusting human wisdom and human understanding, but God’s promises in His Word, Jesus Christ, remain firm and will never fail. In Matthew 28:20 it says, “Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” This is not the end of the age. This is a period in our life that we will live through and remember Christ’s faithfulness and presence.
What do we do with our disappointment and disillusionment? We recognize the reality of those feelings and take solace from this biblical story. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you. And I care for you—and Josh, and Paul and Dave and all of Christ Church cares for you! There is no getting around that. Christ cares for you through us.
I would like to close with a prayer that I have found to be very comforting during this time, form the Book of Common Prayer (page 461)
In the Morning
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.