“But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
How many of you are feeling like your hopes have been dashed? Like you’ve lost something important – an opportunity, an experience, an event, a plan, a person?
Many of us may be feeling this way right now. Losses of jobs, of livelihood, of lives. Losses of our plans for Easter or a birthday or graduation. Loss of a vacation or some time with far-away family or gathering for Sunday worship. Even the loss of the normal, of stability, or of the way things were. All of these losses are being experienced by people as our lives are inevitably changed due to Covid19. And as we experience these losses, it is normal to feel grief. Everything has changed and our hopes feel shattered. With such loss naturally comes grieving.
That’s what the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were feeling when they came upon the risen Jesus they didn’t recognize. Confusion, dashed hopes, grief. “We had hoped that he was the one,” they say in their sadness. When people go through a traumatic loss, they often have a hard time remembering details or making decisions or seeing the truth in front of their eyes. Jesus’ travelling companions on the road to Emmaus were no different. Despite the promise of the empty tomb, the disciples felt loss and grief and simply couldn’t recognize Jesus among them.
We too are experiencing loss. We had hoped we’d been able to worship by now; we had hoped for healing by now; we had hoped that things would be different, normal, predictable. But things haven’t gone as expected. Right now, despite the Easter promise of the empty tomb and whether we know it or not, many of us are suffering loss and grieving. And it’s important for us to name that, to take stock of our emotions and thoughts, and to recognize that we are walking on a journey of grief and all that comes with it.
Think of the various experiences of grief people go through: the shock that may still not have worn off; the denial while trying to avoid the inevitable; the anger and frustrated outpouring of emotions we’ve kept bottled up. Then there’s the bargaining, searching in vain for ways out, no matter how impossible. At some point we realize that the inevitable has happened and depression hits. Then, hopefully, we can start to seek realistic responses and find the way in our acceptance that what has happened is real and moving forward is our only possibility for life.
All of these apply to our lives now and can be easily seen in ourselves and others as we struggle to face the reality of the Covid virus and its consequences. And since each of us is different we may be in different places in our experiences of grief, sometimes dealing with more than one of these experiences at a time, sometimes bouncing back and forth between them depending on the day, the hour, the minute.
It is because of this grief and the ways we experience it that we need to take some time to care for our selves spiritually, mentally and emotionally right now. And we can start by inviting Jesus into our homes and lives. “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over,” the disciples ask of the risen Jesus they still don’t recognize yet, even though he told them all about himself on the road.
“Stay with us,” we can pray to the risen Christ so that our frustration doesn’t turn into anger or our sadness doesn’t become debilitating. “Stay with us” so that we can face the inevitable changes with courage and hope. “Stay with us” so that we can take responsibility for our neighbors instead of simply bargaining for our own rights. “Stay with us” so that in our need to get back to a normal that will never be again we don’t rush back to life expecting it to be as it was before.
And when, in prayer or meditation or devotions, we can invite the risen Jesus into our homes and break bread with him and open our hearts to the work only the Spirit can do, it is then that our eyes will be opened to see Christ’s new life working in us and our hearts will burn with the promises given to us on the road of our faith. It’s then, when Christ’s new life enters us, that we can move through the experiences of grief rather than around them and let the Spirit comfort us in grief, calm our fears, and lead us toward acceptance. It’s then that we can be transformed into Jesus’ disciples who see the risen Christ and follow him into new life on the other side.
For there is new and abundant life on the other side of grief. We may not know what it looks like yet, but God has promised it, and in faith we trust that promise as true. Our calling is bigger than any immediate freedom to worship we might demand. It is the call to live even now, even in our grief, in Christ. Until we reach that other side, we can cling to Christ on our road to Emmaus living out the fruit of the Spirit by practicing in all that we do for our neighbors “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23)
So hang in there, beloved, and take some time to grieve what you’ve lost. Here are some ideas from my fellow Bishop Laurie (Oregon Synod) for grieving while social distancing. But in your grief, never forget that Christ is walking that road with you to new life and love for your neighbor.
In Christ’s love,
Story-Telling during Holy Week
“Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee…’” (Mt 28:7)
This is a week of stories. No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot of stories recently, mostly about Covid19. No doubt some of those stories are sad or frightening. No doubt some of those stories make us want to turn off the news and watch a 1980’s sitcom.
But I’m betting that some of these stories are good news stories. Some stories are about kindness and compassion as people share with one another and care for each other. Some stories are fun and full of the delight of people trying to make the best of a tough situation. (I’m noticing a lot of online dancing!)
On the evening of April 8, our Jewish sisters and brothers begin their holy days of Passover. These siblings from the Jewish faith also are focusing on story-telling this week, speaking the goodness of God into a time of suffering. They too are struggling to find ways to come together as families and friends across the internet and over the phone so that they can eat together and tell the stories of freedom and God’s deliverance.
What are the good news stories you’re hearing around your community or phone tree? What are the good news stories that are inspiring you this week? For me, one of the good news stories comes out of Libby MT where the members of Christ Lutheran put together an Easter Parade using their vehicles and drove past the church with signs wishing the interim pastor and the secretary a “Happy Easter.” Or the one from Powell WY where Hope Lutheran (Powell) and Trinity Lutheran (Cody) are using the local drive-in theatre for stay-in-your-car worship. (Honk your horn to share the peace! I love it!) If you have a good news story from your congregation, please share it with us. We’d love to hear it!
“Go and tell,” the angel says to the women at the tomb. “Do not be afraid. Go and tell,” Jesus says to them minutes later as they race to tell the disciples. (Mt 28:10)
This is the week we tell the core story of the Christian faith – the story of Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem and his meal with his disciples and the washing of their feet. The story of the new commandment that Jesus himself gave us: “Love one another.” The story of Jesus’ arrest with a kiss from his betrayer. The story of his so-called trial, his torture, suffering and long walk to his execution. The story of Jesus’ death on a cross in a garbage dump called Golgotha. And yes, the story of his resurrection. On Easter Sunday, we will shout “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”
But this year, telling this story -- the story that someone once dubbed “The Greatest Story Ever Told” -- will be different. Many of us will be hearing this story from home, perhaps online or on the radio. Some will be reading it for ourselves from the Bible. In fact, I encourage you to read Matthew 26-28 and/or John 18-21 for the full “rest of the story.” Most of us will be staying at home to receive the story rather than “going and telling” anyone.
But one of the amazing things about this story is that no matter where we hear it and no matter where we tell it, the story remains our greatest good news story ever, the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this story we are reminded that Jesus went through suffering, death and resurrection to give us new life in him. We are also reminded that we too are called to take up our cross and follow him through this path of suffering, death and resurrection -- not to celebrate suffering and death but to stand up to it, face it and celebrate Christ’s victory over it.
In this Holy Week story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we hear the good news that Christ’s new life is our new life whether we congregate in the same physical place or not. And neither Covid19 nor the devil himself can take this new life away. We can walk through our own Holy Week journey – Christ’s journey – with him, trusting with our whole selves that just as “we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Rm 6:5)
Blessed Holy Week to you all!
Staying at home with God
Dear Fellow Home-bodies in Christ,
Yes, we are indeed home-bodies right now, ever since Governor Bullock issued the “Stay at Home” directive last Friday. Well, many of us are. Some, those who are essential to the ongoing functioning of our communities, are out doing their work, keeping us safe, caring for our health, providing food on grocery shelves, picking up our trash. Thank you to all those who continue to work and risk your health for our well-being!!
But many of us – at least those of us who have homes -- are staying home as we’ve been asked and ordered to do. For some this is the most time we’ve spent in our homes in months, even years. For others staying home with family members we only see occasionally has been an experiment in relationship growth. For those who are introverts, staying home is a dream come true…until it’s not anymore. For those who are extroverts, seeing the same walls and people only through a screen is a bit maddening.
One question we might be asking during this stay-at-home time when we’re not able to join together in physical, in-person worship is: where is God in all of this? Is God in God’s own home safe and sound and watching us from a distance through Zoom or Facetime as we suffer through Covid19 alone? Or has God left home to somehow punish the group of people we dislike the most with this awful virus or to punish us for some slight?
The answer to both of those questions is no, absolutely not, no way! The God of steadfast love and endless mercy, the God of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ does not work that way. God is with us in this time, suffering with and supporting us, loving us in our love for one another and weeping when we don’t.
In the Gospel of John, we hear several references to God’s home that describe vividly where God is right now. In John 1:14, we hear that the Word – God in Jesus Christ – became flesh and made his home among us. Literally, Jesus pitched his tent in our home. Later, also in John 1:38-39, two disciples ask Jesus where he is staying. And Jesus says “Come and see! Come and see my home, my place, and my way.” Also, when Jesus is getting ready to depart, Jesus says, “In my Father’s home there are many dwelling places and I am going to prepare a place for you.”(Jn 14:2-3) And then, in that upper room where the disciples are staying at home in fear, Jesus breathes the Spirit into us, his followers, again entering our homes to stay. (Jn 20:22)
In these words from Jesus, the Word of God, we see that we are already home with God and God is home with us. God’s home is our home and our home is God’s home. Because Jesus became incarnate and lived with us, God made us God’s own home in this place. Because Jesus breathed the Spirit into us through our Baptism, God made us God’s own home in this space. And now Jesus calls us, invites us to dwell with him in his home, following him and his way of “staying at home” by trusting in God (faith) and loving one another in all that we say and do, perhaps even by finding ways to help those who have no physical home. In Christ we are home in God, and God has made a never-ending home in us. Praise be to God!
I would like to close with these home-y words from Henri Nouwen, again from Following Jesus: Finding our Way Home in Anxious Times (p. 20-21): “The Lord is my house. The Lord is my hiding place. The Lord is my awning. The Lord is my refuge…my tent, my temple, my dwelling place. The Lord is my home…the place where I want to dwell all the days of my life. God wants to be our room, our house…to be anything that makes us feel at home.”
So stay at home with God these next several weeks until once again we can return in person to our communities and congregations and be at home in Christ together.
May God bless and keep you all in your homes!
Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod