This past week across Canada we’ve seen more and more indication that we are starting to ‘flatten the curve’. That is to say, new cases of coronavirus infection today do not greatly exceed the new cases recorded yesterday. Day over day, we aren’t seeing anymore spikes in new cases.
This is good news. But people are still getting sick, and dying. And our officials are telling us not to waver in our disciplines around physical distancing. We are not out of the woods yet. We can’t relax isolation practice. We must still stay at home and go out only when absolutely necessary.
A glimmer of hope that our hard work is starting to pay off. But we’ve been at this over a month already, and just now we are starting to get some good news. This process is taking a long time. As someone told me, we are in a marathon.
I’m not a marathon runner. But I did walk part of the Camino in Spain a few years ago. And I remember those days when I accomplished thirty to thirty-five kilometres were days that I bided my time and pace. I had to conserve energy, especially at the beginning of the day when I had energy and drive. I held back from going ‘all out’ early because I knew I would be walking late into the afternoon and still have hills to climb and descend at the end of the day.
Despite my good efforts and intentions, however, it didn’t always work out. I didn’t walk thirty kilometres every day. Occasionally unexpected obstacles prevented from moving on – Half way through what was turning out to be a good day on the trail, my knee locked. Sometimes finding food or bad weather delayed or cut days short. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. I wondered if I’d ever make it to my destination.
Two disciples are on half a day’s walk to Emmaus, and away from the holy city and the dramatic events surrounding the death of Jesus, their friend and their Lord. This resurrection story from the Gospel of Lukereflects all that is good on a pilgrimage: the vulnerable sharing in intimate, trusting conversation; the encounter with strangers who become friends; the sitting at table and sharing in breaking of bread. And, in all of these very human experiences we recognize, sometimes in a moment of surprise, the risen, living and loving God in Christ Jesus who accompanies us in all these ventures.
The disciples are surprised with joy when they finally recognize Jesus. The full realization doesn’t happen until after the fact: “Weren’t our hearts burning when we talked on the road?” This surprise factor – a blessed goodness – is given, not earned. Indeed we are not in control of the love and grace that comes our way. Love finds us in the journey. Even if we don’t see it right away.
On Easter Sunday I spoke of the life that finds us. The life of God in Christ is animated, is conveyed and energized by love. In Easter, life and love come together as one. The life of Jesus comes about through death and resurrection. And it is all made possible by love. On our pilgrimage in life, love finds us. God seeks our good. Even when we can’t recognize and fully appreciate it right away.
My driven self feels sorry for those disciples for having to make that long walk back to Jerusalem. They went all that way to Emmaus only to head back to Jerusalem – the place of their fear and anxiety. What a wasted journey! How unproductive and inefficient a process! Why couldn’t Jesus just appear to them where they were to begin with, without having had to walk all that distance?
And yet, God’s love comes to us. God’s love comes to us even when we are not necessarily fully aware of God’s presence. God’s love comes to us despite our inefficiencies, mistakes and heroic interventions. God’s love finds us in doing things imperfectly, within our human limitations, when things don’t quite work out in the way we had envisioned.
“There is no direct path to goodness,” Theologian David Ford so describes the paradox of being found by love amidst the confusion and messiness of life. We don’t construct a good life. Rather, he talks about an “active passivity”.Especially when we don’t know exactly how things will work out in the end – this is when we experience Christ sustaining us, being present to us. And it’s while we are on this uncertain journey when we are surprised by grace and love.
I learned an expression walking part of the Camino de Santiago a few years ago: “Attaquer le chemin!”. Perhaps because for a few early days I walked with a couple of French speakers, the attitude expressed in that phrase (to attack the road) revealed a rather compulsive driven-ness to succeed and accomplish something.
My negative reactions when things didn’t work out for me on the Camino exposed my pretense and delusion of being in control of the outcome of my good efforts and intentions. My rather masculine and heroic attempts to attaquer le chemin kept me from being receptive to God. My anxious determination to take control, to be in charge of my destiny obstructed my view of God where God was.
My egoic need to possess ‘my own’ Camino experience blinded me to the good and the grace that was, in truth, coming my way and offered to me over and over again, each day: Despite the exhaustion, frustration and discomfort of the pilgrimage, I was given safe and comfortable shelter each night. I did find enough nourishing food and companions along the way to share with. I was only able to fully appreciate these gifts in hindsight.
This grace – the love of God – is born again in your heart this Eastertide. Christ is risen! Not once the marathon of physical distancing, seclusion and what may feel like imprisonment is over. But Christ is risen right in the midst of the efforts, the fits, the starts, the backtracks, the failures and the mundane. Right now. Right here. Can we therefore not step into the love, hope and grace of God that is always there? And live out of that love?
I pray you know this love and hope. Amen.
Luke 24:13-35, for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (Revised Common Lectionary).
Australian Anglican priest, theologian and writer, Sarah Bachelard, cites David Ford in her webinar on ‘A Living Hope: The Shape of Christian Virtue’, 21 April 2020, www.wccm.org