When Easter doesn’t fix everything, and we’re at the crossroads of hope and fear.
By: Rebecca Garrett Pace, Minister of Worship & The Arts, and one who’s been on the road to Emmaus for a while.

So it’s a few days after Easter Sunday. Everything is supposed to be better, now, right? We can sing more upbeat songs, Mitchell finally won’t be preaching about betrayal and trials and crucifixion all the time, Lysol wipes are back on the shelves, and we’re back to meeting in person after over a year. This is Eastertide — happy, happy, joy, joy. Right?

Luke 23:13 Now on that same [Easter] day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
Jesus is risen, yet fear still abides. Jesus is risen, yet we disciples are still a bit (ok, more than a bit) confused and afraid. Jesus is risen, yet for some reason that I don’t even pretend to understand, my eyes are kept from recognizing him. Jesus is risen, but — am I alone in this? — I still just feel like I’m standing still, looking sad.

We’re tired. More than tired. Worn out. Exhausted. We’re depleted. We’re weary. Easter is supposed to fix everything, but here we are, still dealing with grief of what we’ve lost, and who we’ve lost, in the past year. Easter is supposed to fix everything, but here we are, still dealing with the constant questions of when and how to gather safely, to resume any semblance of routine, and to reinvent what can’t be resumed. We’re still weighing — oh, the constant weighing — the pros and cons, the risks and rewards of programs, outings, returning to work, getting our kids back involved in activities. We’re standing still, on the road to Emmaus, looking sad.

Luke 24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

I had hoped. I had hoped I’d be better by now — five months into long-term COVID symptoms, with hardly a day that goes by without fatigue that keeps me from doing things I used to think were “normal,” like run errands, cook dinner, or take a walk with my husband without pain in my arms and legs. Oh, how I had hoped. I had hoped I would just somehow know the “right” answer of how to guide our congregation back toward in-person worship, praying together, singing together, rehearsing folk band and handbells and choir, and there’s just no easy answer. I ask ten different colleagues in ten different cities at ten different churches, and I get, you guessed it, ten different opinions and answers about what’s safe, what’s acceptable, what’s right. I had hoped.

You had hoped, too, hadn’t you? You had hoped that by now you’d know how to navigate this WFH life, the “office” that’s actually the dining room table, the makeshift recording studio that’s actually the laundry room because it’s got pretty good acoustics. You had hoped that by now you could start to see friends and family, and somehow that would help you move through the grief of losing a parent or grandparent you never got to say goodbye to, because there were no visitors allowed at the senior living center. You had hoped the anxiety and depression would go back into their designated brain-rooms after abiding in the main living spaces of your mind for so many months. You had hoped you’d have seen the Risen Christ by now.

Luke 24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

On Easter Sunday, Mitchell preached about the crossroads of hope and fear. Like the precious, scared, hopeless disciples in Mark (and Matthew, Luke, and John, for that matter), we just can't see the sunrise for the clouds. It’s so much easier sometimes, in a weird way, to choose fear, because that’s become our norm. We’re so used to the constant adrenaline, the low-key dread, the behind-the-eyes headaches that come from too much Zoom, or too much alone time, or somehow both (how can both of those be so true??), that we have forgotten how to choose hope. Our hope muscles are atrophied.

So we choose the tiny, daily things that help us make it through. We complain to our spouse about how terrible it all is. We send a postcard to a friend. We re-activate our Headspace app that we haven’t used since 2019, whoops, and decide to give it a try again. We buy our teenagers more expensive prom outfits than we would ever have thought reasonable, because they’re struggling too, and if we can do even a little bit to lift their spirits, we want to do it. And we invite the Risen Christ into our midst just out of habit, because that’s a small, decent act that we can muster these days.

And Jesus shows up. Late, might I add, and frustrating, and cryptic, and confusing, and not at all the powerful glowing Risen Christ that he was supposed to be. I need to have a word with him about that sometime soon.

But he shows up. He shows up and he sparks hope and he enjoys bread and broiled fish and he disappears from our sight right as we might possibly maybe be getting the hang of something, and it’s so tempting to slip back down into despair and fear.

But there’s the bread. There’s the wine. There’s the friend who texts you a picture of a flower in your favorite color because somehow she just knows it’s been an awful terrible no good very bad day. There’s the song that gets stuck in your head and brings a smile to your face. There are the tears in the middle of the grocery store because you just picked up a tin of your grandmother’s favorite tea, and it reminds you of her, and you miss her, and here you are crying in aisle 12, and the inside of your mask is very damp.

We had hoped… and I’m here to tell you that I am having more than a few hopeless moments these days. It’s okay if your hope is past tense every now and then, or even most of the time. Jesus will still show up. And then he’ll disappear again, or maybe he doesn’t disappear but we’re kept from recognizing him, which, again, gonna have words about that, Jesus. Not cool. But somehow he promises to come back soon. And in the meantime, we choose to show up for the sunrise even if it’s cloudy.

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