To say we have been operating in crisis mode here at Hickory Neck would be an understatement. We went from normal operations, to heavy restrictions for gathering and receiving communion, to entirely closing our buildings, to moving all worship online, to virtual learning, fellowship, and pastoral care. All of those changes happened rapidly, and with an eye to whatever was next. Once we figured out some semblance of a new rhythm and “normal,” Holy Week came, and we had to figure out how to make our most sacred week of the Church Year meaningful despite our inability to gather physically. Baptisms and confirmations have been postponed, our Bishop’s visit has been delayed, and farewells and celebrations have been canceled. And yet, here we are, about half-way through a stay-at-home order, with infection and death rates at astronomical levels, and the Church finds herself in the third week of Easter, still proclaiming her alleluias.
I am not sure I could pull myself together and proclaim those alleluias without the lessons from Holy Scripture we have been journeying with these last Sundays. In a normal Eastertide, we are more carefree, reveling in Easter joy, making bold proclamations about resurrection and eternal life, and listening to the early Easter stories like the walk to Emmaus with a sense of endearment – as if saying, “Bless their hearts!” as the early Christians try to figure out what in the world is going on after Jesus’ resurrection. But this is not a normal Eastertide. In fact, Biblical scholar Matt Skinner refers to this time as “Pandemic Easter.”[i] For the first time in perhaps most of our lives, we can more deeply empathize with the disciples during these early days of resurrection. The modern Church has used Eastertide as a bold proclamation of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But the first disciples of Christ are not boldly doing anything. In fact, they are bereft, confused, scared, given glimpses of hope followed by bouts of despair and doubt. They are not sure what to believe, even having seen the risen Jesus themselves. Even those who receive the teaching from the disciples in our Acts lesson are overcome with emotion and can only ask, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Somehow, living in Pandemic Easter has made our Eastertide lessons much more powerfully relatable. I do not know if I am ready to boldly proclaim, “The Lord is Risen Indeed.” But I am willing to say to fellow Christians, and to God, “What should we do?” I am willing to talk with a fellow person of faith, or even a person of no faith, walking with them (either metaphorically or at least at a distance of six feet) as we make our way through this mess. Those disciples on the walk to Emmaus look different to me this year. Those two people who thought they knew what they believed, who are confused by testimony of Jesus’ resurrection, who walk away from the protective hideout with fellow disciples, are trying to make sense of life, death, and Jesus. They are not people to be pitied or seen as adorably unsure of their faith. They are us. They are people in a life-altering crisis, trying to make sense of death and defeat, wondering where hope may be, and a bit lost.
And here comes the best part. Now, I have always thought the best parts of this story are where Jesus teaches the disciples unawares, shares a meal with them, or their hearts becoming strangely warmed, allowing them to become the second set of witnesses after the women at the tomb. But in Pandemic Easter, the best part of this story might just be what happens on the walk to Emmaus. Jesus invites these two followers to talk about what has happened to them. He literally walks with them as they share their shock, their grief, their sadness. Perhaps in Easters past, I thought Jesus was being coy or trying to trick the disciples in some way. But in Pandemic Easter, I think Jesus is doing what we all need: Jesus listens, he lets the disciples share their reality, he makes space for the human response to a new normal. Jesus makes space for questions like, “What should we do?”
I don’t know about you, but the very real, vulnerable, human interactions between Jesus and the disciples in Scripture today has been a tremendous balm to me. More than perhaps any year, the Church is not telling us how to embrace and proclaim a certain and sure faith. Today the Church is simply inviting us to hover in the actual experience of Easter – days of confusion, sadness, fear, and grief. We are able to tarry there because Scripture reminds us today that Jesus walks with us. When we cannot yet understand, when we perhaps cannot even believe, Jesus walks with us on the journey. Jesus listens to our real human response to crisis and walks with us. Someday – maybe today, maybe in a week or month, or maybe in a year, we will be able to hear Jesus’ teaching and understand, and our hearts will be strangely warmed with conviction. Until then, Jesus walks with us where we are, acknowledging the fullness of our weakness, and staying with us and loving us through it all. Thanks be to God.
[i] Matt Skinner, “The Road to Emmaus Feels Longer This Year,” April 19, 2020, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5428 on April 24, 2020.