Still Walking Those Seven Miles

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I am reminded that God acknowledges the sadness written on our faces.

First came our stay-at-home orders. They went into effect in mid-March, right at the part of Lent when my forty-day practice felt less Draw-closer-to-Jesus and more Oh-no-I-forgot-to-practice-Lent! Our entire state was asked to give up friendships, gatherings, church and school, as well as all markers of normalcy. Lent was put into real-life practice and felt so very appropriate.

Then Easter came. We practiced communion on the couch with the week’s school activities still strewn about all available surfaces. It was an Easter where we leaned into the hope of resurrection, dreaming of our own societal resurrection at the end of quarantine life.

Now, we’re still here. Some places around the world are slowly opening up, trying to put new systems in place to establish new norms. The newness has worn off our shelter-in-place. Our house is no longer as clean or as sanitized as it was in the early days. Now that we have a decent school routine established, the days blend together in a kind of fogginess. Our highs are higher and our lows are lower. And even though there are projected dates to start easing up on restrictions, the end isn’t really in sight.

In the church calendar, we’re in Eastertide right now. These are the fifty days between the resurrection of Jesus and his ascension back into Heaven. In these days, Jesus appeared to groups of his disciples and news spread of his return. But not everyone got the news right away.

One of my favorite stories is about two disciples walking away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmaus, a town about seven miles away.

As they were walking and talking about Jesus’ death, Jesus himself appeared beside them and asked them what they were talking about. I love how the New Living Translation tells it, “They stopped short, sadness written across their faces.” (v17)

Luke felt the need to describe how these two looked in the midst of a great crisis. Sadness was written on their faces. When I read those words again recently, I stopped there. Normally, I love this story because it reminds me that God is often found when we are walking away from the center of religion. Today I love it, because I am reminded that God acknowledges the sadness written on our faces.

God showed such tenderness toward these two grief-stricken disciples. They hadn’t yet heard the news—they only knew half the story. They knew that Jesus had died and was missing; not that Jesus had risen.

This is how I’m feeling in this moment in time, like I only know half the story. I only know that something is missing and I haven’t yet heard the news of resurrection.

I think it’s interesting that Jesus allowed these disciples to remain in their grief. They walked for seven miles and ate dinner together before Jesus revealed himself to them. He could have appeared right away, easing their grief and participating in their joy. But no, he walked that road of grief with them, telling stories of hope but not giving any concrete answers.

During this season of global uncertainty, the Road to Emmaus means so even more to me. I’m remembering that Jesus walks alongside my grief. There’s big heavy grief around injustice and inequality, but also small weighty pockets of grief around my family’s little losses.

Easter is about the celebration at the tomb, yes, and the news of resurrection. But this year, I see how walking seven miles in grief with Jesus is just as much a part of the Easter story. Jesus is still walking those seven miles with us.

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