Someone sent me a text a few days ago. It read, “2020 is a unique leap year. It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March, and 5 years in April.” Funny, yes. And sad. But funny. It’s probably a good sign of our resilience that we can poke fun at our fears and other horrors visited upon us. I also recall that when an experience exceeds the limits of reason, we might tell someone close by to “pinch me.” That goes to say physical pain, and suffering I might add, have power to drag us back to reality. When someone smiles, they must be pleased with what they just heard or saw. Or they’re up to no good. But when someone cringes, it’s likely a sign of pain. If a sleeping person smiles, it could be a good dream, or it could be gas. But if a sleeping person cringes, we know it’s a reaction to pain. Pain is one powerfully undeniable reality. Few things can be more real.
The global coronavirus pandemic has affected us all, across the globe and across all walks of life, across race, language, education, income, politics, and religion. Every one of our lives has been altered in some fashion, some upended more dreadfully than others. The first challenge belongs to those exposed to the virus. We don’t know it well, so we don’t have any guarantees. In the fight, some will fail; some will recover; some won’t even know they had it to begin with. Survivors can still be carriers, endangering others without even knowing it. The second challenge falls to healthcare professionals whose task is to ease the pain and suffering of others, and to apply proven and effective remedies to advance healing. Theirs is a vital but dangerous role, doing battle then making sure not to endanger their loved ones. The rest of us face the third challenge, of keeping each other safe and avoiding behaviors that could help spread the illness. If that was all there was to it, it appears to be a manageable affair. But wait, there’s more!
With no vaccine available anytime soon, public health and safety officials are strongly recommending we wash our hands often, not touch our faces, wipe down objects that are handled frequently, and observe social distancing. Our survival as a society depends on it. Consequently, schools have closed for the rest of the year, forcing parents to stay home and supervise their education. We are to avoid large gatherings, effectively shutting down places of worship, entertainment, sports, and recreation. Most workplaces are closed, and most everyone else has been ordered to stay home. As of Friday, 26.5 million people are out of work in this country. Many essential workers still lack proper safety equipment to do their jobs, like first responders, healthcare, law enforcement, the postal service, and providers of consumer goods, putting them at much greater risk.
Consequently, people are concerned about feeding their families, paying their bills, and protecting small businesses. The usual health challenges still afflict the elderly and vulnerable. In some instances, dangerous weather has added to people’s worries. 16 people died in Nova Scotia, Canada last Sunday victims of a mass shooting. And we hear reports of isolated incidents of cluelessness or pure spite, people hoarding essential goods, people coughing on produce at the grocery store on purpose, people not taking the stay-at-home order seriously, political leaders suggesting some lives are disposable.
We’ve all been on the same strange journey these last few weeks, and simply not knowing how it will all play out leaves us fearful for ourselves, our children, our economy, our country, the whole world, our future. Perhaps the story of two disciples meeting Jesus on the road might help us out of our funk.
Two disciples travelled from Jerusalem to Emmaus, from the epicenter of a most horrific event visited upon their community of close friends to some obscure no-name location, perhaps for a change of scenery or for their mental health. But clearly, they still had a lot to process. And amid their grief and turmoil, Jesus walked alongside them.
He listened. He asked questions. He let them get it all out of their system. Then he offered them a new perspective and hope, explaining how God was hard at work in those very same horrific events, bringing about the fulfillment of his grand design. I’m sure they listened. They asked questions. And they opened their minds and hearts to what he had to tell them. Without even knowing it, they encountered the Risen Jesus.
When they came to their destination they wanted to keep talking. Perhaps they found comfort in his presence and in his words. But night was upon them, and it looked like he would keep walking. “Stay with us,” they pleaded. Presumably the discussion continued to the dinner table. And in the breaking of bread, their eyes were opened.
So far, we can identify with the horrific experience of the community of Jesus’ disciples. We talk among ourselves. We joke. We gripe. We are saddened by those who dismiss our distress. We disparage them as indifferent and malicious. We create memes and Disney song parodies. We take long naps and binge on junk food and Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime. But nothing is dispelling the darkness and fear deep down. The night is upon us. Are we processing our grief and turmoil? Is Jesus trying to shine a light in our darkness or comforting us in our fear? Are we listening for his voice? Are we asking questions? Are our minds and hearts ready to receive what he has to say?
Peter reminded his listeners in the first reading that they were witnesses to many tremendous wonders and signs from God’s own hand, which they missed entirely, that this same Jesus they sent to die has indeed been raised, exalting us along with him with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us. What was once cause for deep mourning and grief has been transformed into tremendous rejoicing and hope. If we could pause and consider the trove of evidence of God’s power and wisdom in our own lives, we can trust that God has not been defeated, that darkness and fear are dispelled, that death is powerless and laid waste.
Sometimes we prefer to wallow in our frustration and grief, in our pajamas and sweatpants, refusing to pick ourselves up, or put away the junk food, the depressing TV viewing, the soul-draining social media, to return to a more productive routine, or some appearance of self-discipline, and prepare for the eventual break of dawn. Jesus walks alongside us, reminding us that God is hard at work in our lives and in the world. And if we pay close attention, if we recognize his presence, if we find comfort in the sound of his voice, our eyes too will be opened at the breaking of bread.
And when that happens, you too must go and tell the others. Returning in haste to Jerusalem the two disciples recounted how their eyes were opened. It didn’t happen all at once. First they had to reflect on their journey. Then they had to recognize his presence and hear his voice. Only then will they know him at the breaking of bread.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020