A closed sign hanging in a shop window

Back to normal?

What happens when the things God has spoken to us about do not pan out the way we thought they would? When the plans and projects we were sure He was leading us to, come to a halt because of an unforeseen event: little could we have predicted a world-wide pandemic that has changed our lives and the world around us?

The story of the road to Emmaus, found in Luke, chapter 24, begins with two of Jesus’ followers walking away from Jerusalem, on the road to Emmaus, discussing the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and rumoured resurrection when a stranger interrupts them. As we contemplate the rising hope of these followers that Jesus was the one they were waiting for, the one who would rescue them from Roman occupation and bring freedom to Israel, his death seems to them to be the greatest disappointment yet; it is no wonder Luke describes ‘the sadness written across their faces’. Their confusion is tangible as they try to untangle the rumours that his body is gone and some of the disciples are claiming that he is in fact resurrected. You can feel their pain, disappointment, sadness and confusion as they walk along the road. This is not the way it was supposed to happen. ‘We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel’ they tell the stranger walking along beside them.

As, we have entered a time of global confusion and fear over a virus difficult to control and leaving death in its wake, we are brought to reckon with some of our own disappointment and confusion. The things that had been going so well in our churches: the start of a church plant, an alpha course about to begin, a new member in our home group, etc. Or maybe our disappointments are of a personal nature: we had thought we were walking in this direction in our work life; spending valuable time with friends and family and as we wonder when we might see some of these people, if indeed we get to see them again, our sadness and confusion rises up. It is good to know that these feelings have a space to be expressed in the lives of Jesus’ followers, as it is here with these two disciples.

It is in this place of disappointment and confusion that our stranger enters the scene. ‘What are you discussing so intently?’ He involves himself and shows interest in their discussion. The stranger listens to their disappointed hopes and physically meets them where they are, journeying with them, listening to where they are emotionally and in their understanding of what is going on.

As they journey together the stranger begins to question whether there is another way of looking at this story. As he walks them through the scriptures, he tells them the story afresh, in a way in which what they thought of as the greatest set back transforms before their eyes into the most crucial part of the story. He tells them their own story in a way that makes their ‘hearts burn within them’.

Eventually, after spending time journeying with this stranger, they recognise him: it is Jesus. He has been with them all this time. He has told them their own story and the story of their times from a different perspective. When will come the moment when we realise, with our hearts, mind and being that Jesus was in fact where we thought he wasn’t? He has been walking beside us, telling us a bigger story than the one we are currently involved in. Can we make space and time to listen to our story and the story of these times afresh? To hear it through the overarching narrative of a story written by the Creator of this world?

At this time of Covid 19, how many of us are disappointed? Are we keen to get back to ‘normal’? Are we waiting for the old order of things to be re-established or can we make room for Jesus to show us a larger narrative? NT Wright writes, in ‘Walking to Emmaus in a Postmodern World’[1], about how as Christians we sometimes cling to the culture we have lived in and are used to, so that when that system breaks down, we continue to live as if we wanted to reach back and reconstruct what we had known before, when in fact God calls us onwards ‘to look and pray and work for the resurrection into God’s new world out beyond’[2]. He is of course talking about the breakdown of modernity and the emergence of postmodernity, but his thoughts can bear upon our current situation. Are we harking back to our old way of life and being church? Are we prepared to let go of how we thought life would pan out and our old systems of working to embrace God’s leading into something new and unknown? Are we prepared to let go of what we wanted to do and be and discover what God is doing and who He calls us to be? Let us sit before God and prepare our hearts for the path on which he leads us.

Jess Wilson works part-time as the administration support for Partnership. In the other half of her week she teaches Christian RE sessions in Primary and Secondary schools.

[1] NT Wright, The Challenge of Jesus (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2000), chapter 7: Walking to Emmaus in a Postmodern World

[2] As above, p.129

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