This reflection was shared with pastors from Columbia, Cuba, USA, and other places in the Caribbean and the Americas on the evening of 26th April.
From Rumour to Love.
We live in a time of rumours – more so in these last few weeks than ever before. We know of wars and rumours of wars, we hear the news from far off lands – famine, pestilence, earthquake, fires and floods. For most of us, most of the time, these things are a long way away.
These days the rumours are about disease, numbers of deaths, a shortage of PPE, not enough ventilators. The consequences of the disease, as always, most devastating to the poor and vulnerable and yet, for once, the rich and comfortable are not immune.
Rumours and facts. How strong would a rumour need to be to make us take action? What news would encourage us to set out on a journey – from Jerusalem to Emmaus? For those followers of Jesus walking the seven miles, perhaps back home, to Emmaus – what was it that prompted their journey? The death of Jesus was a devastating blow – grief beyond words, loss of hope, loss of purpose and I wonder if, as many people going through bereavement do, they just needed to get away, to leave the trauma behind and head for a safe place, a parent’s embrace, a welcoming hearth and an hospitable table?
Whatever the purpose of their journey, we understand from the text that the travelers were perplexed – they had heard rumours – some of the women whispered their witness and others went to see for themselves. Let’s not get sidetracked as to why the testimony of a woman might be seen as rumour or fake-news… that could be a discussion for another day!
As they walked, Cleopas and his companion were joined along the way – as walkers on a pilgrimage might travel together with strangers for a while, sharing stories of the road. Scripture was broken open for them by the stranger, yet it was only at the breaking of the bread that Jesus was revealed as the ultimate com-pan-ion, the one who shares bread – a new feast for a new life.
For me, so much resonates in this story in the context we find ourselves today – mostly to do with what we cannot do. The usual patterns and practices of grief and responding to death cannot be followed. Those of us in contexts of lockdown are leading funerals where a handful of permitted mourners stand or sit, metres apart – where loved ones refrain from embracing because of the risk of infection.
If I go for a walk today, I cannot welcome a stranger joining me, rather I cross the road to maintain safety – not because I am afraid of the virus but because I love my neighbour enough not to risk spreading it to them. A core story for us is the Good Samaritan, the one who crossed the road towards danger and showed practical and physical care for a stranger – and now we walk by on the other side. If we can couch this action in the language of love, we might feel better about it but it still hurts and dismays us.
And I cannot, like Jesus and his friends, break bread with the communities of faith with whom I work and offer oversight and care. This for many is the most difficult ‘cannot’ in all of this. For me I couch it in terms of fasting. My husband asked if I wished to offer him communion on Easter Day (not, I think for his sake, but for mine) and my reply was that if the churches I serve cannot receive, then I will endure that same depravation until we can all share together. In these times ‘solidarity’ is a concept we need to discover again and experience in a profound way.
So, if we cannot see Jesus broken before us – can the scales still fall from our eyes? I think it is possible to recognise Jesus – not in the cultic practices of our liturgical acts – rather he can be seen in the brokenness of a nurse working a 12-hour shift in inadequate equipment who then goes to a hotel room because he is shielding his family from the risk of infection. It is in the volunteers moving heaven and earth to get food to those who are vulnerable. It is in the work of the doctor in a refugee camp, who chooses not to go to her home country, but to stay in the midst of the danger. It is in the church, the body of Christ, in those moments when we choose not to obsess about what has been taken away from us but rather look again at what we might give away.
Who knows how the world will look after all of this – and it’s going to be a long journey to travel to ‘after’. I believe our challenge is to keep recognising Jesus in our contexts and joining him in his mission of self-giving love.