by Angela Khabeb
A few weeks ago, the gospel text for the third Sunday of Easter was the familiar story of The Road to Emmaus (Luke 24: 13-35). I’ve heard this story throughout my life and preached it many times. But encountering this familiar story through a COVID-19 lens is a game-changer.
Walking on the road to Emmaus, we encounter two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed follower. It is Easter Sunday. Yet, the Good News had not reached these two despondent disciples. They are devastated and hopeless.
Jesus the Messiah was crucified and so they walked along saddened and broken.
As the two disciples walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile journey, a stranger interrupts their conversation. He asks them about recent events. The two disciples tell him about Jesus’ crucifixion. Then the stranger breaks open the scriptures to them as they journey toward Jerusalem.
After they reach their destination, the disciples insist that the stranger join them for the evening meal. When they break bread together, the disciples realize that the stranger is indeed Jesus, their risen Savior and Friend.
Jesus vanishes from their sight. The disciples rejoice, asking one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?”
Usually, when I hear this story, I rush to fire. For me, that’s the best part. Didn’t our hearts burn within us? Their question reminds me of one of my favorite bible verses when the prophet Jeremiah proclaims to God that your word is like fire, shut up in my bones. I know this fire well. Yet in the context of COVID-19, this Bible passage has taken on a different significance. This time, instead of rushing to the celebration of the Easter revelation, I find myself stumbling along that dusty road to Emmaus with these two disciples. I’m not alone. Some of us can relate to these two disciples.
Easter has come, yet in some ways, it still feels like Good Friday.
Even though we know Christ is risen, somehow, we missed the resurrection. We now live in a world that is difficult to recognize.
When Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples, he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. Likewise, Jesus comes to us to open our understanding. Sometimes I think about the disciples and the steep learning curve they experienced. The funny thing is, even after Jesus explained the scriptures, even after his disciples recognized his true identity, they were still confused.
But you know what? That’s good news. We are living in a very confusing time and it’s ok to feel confused.
The disciples did not recognize Jesus, even though he was with them the whole time. Likewise, Jesus has been alongside us every moment. Yet, at times, we struggle to recognize Jesus in our midst. Perhaps we are either unaware, overwhelmed or distracted. But fortunately, Jesus makes house calls. Consequently, it is not surprising that Jesus comes to us in unexpected ways and “breaks into” our lives–right in the middle of our sheltering in place, socially distanced lives.
Thankfully, Jesus will not leave us alone! He keeps showing up when and where we least expect to encounter him. Jesus is relentlessly present in the shadows of our lives no matter the confusion, fear, or circumstances. Jesus will not social distance himself from us.
We know that life is marked with change. We all have experienced unexpected events and will undoubtedly experience more. But through every twist and turn that we encounter, Jesus comes to us and speaks a word of peace. Even if we fail to recognize him, Jesus comes to us. Even when we are isolated from each other, Jesus shows up and waits for us. Even when we are confused and can’t make sense of the world around us, Jesus seeks after us. Jesus finds us. Interrupts our conversations and will not leave us alone. Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb serves Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. She enjoys an active home life with her amazing husband, Benhi, and their three wonderful children Konami, Khenna and Khonni.
This article was written before the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minn., May 25, 2020.