Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 26, 2020
3rd Sunday of Easter
A few years ago, I made plans for a clergy retreat at Virginia Beach with my friend, Sarah Nave. The idea was to spend time together, take long walks, do a little stargazing, and discuss Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It just so happened one of Sarah’s parishioners owned a condo just across from the beach and she had offered it to us for the weekend.
By early Friday afternoon, Sarah and I arrived, got settled, in and then sat down to chat. I mentioned that Barbara Brown Taylor’s book had made the cover of Christian Century. Sarah responded that it had also made the cover of Time magazine, and then handed me her copy. A little later, we heard someone making noises outside the condo. Honestly, we did not think much of it UNTIL we realized we had no electricity. We went to the office to find out what the problem was, and the manager made a call, only to return with these words, “Well, it appears the electric bill has not been paid.” Immediately Sarah called her friend, who was mortified. After a couple more phone calls it was discovered that the bill had not been received and the person who took care of such details was traveling in West Virginia. In other words, with the electricity being disconnected on a Friday afternoon, the problem would not be resolved during our little retreat. Walking back toward the condo, determined to enjoy our time together—with or without electricity—we could not help but laugh when we realized the irony of our situation: What a perfect opportunity to “learn to walk in the dark.”
One of the main themes of Taylors’ book is how we tend to believe good things happen in the light but not in the darkness. She writes,
Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me—either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.
My favorite part of the book is when Taylor goes one night with her husband, Ed, and their dog, Dancer, out on a high hill on their farm in north Georgia to watch the moon rise. They find a good place and sit and wait and watch. “How long has it been since we’ve done this?” her husband asks. “Twenty years,” Barbara responds. “Why is that?” he says. The answer makes her so sad she cannot say it out loud: “We have been too busy—for twenty years.” The remainder of the book is a retelling of other experiences Taylor has—while exploring a spirituality of the nighttime—while learning to look for God in the darkness.
The disciples spend some unanticipated time in the darkness on Easter evening as they travel on the Emmaus Road. They have put all their hopes and dreams into Jesus, but he has gotten himself killed. It is a dark time. And just when they are getting used to the idea that he is dead, the women have come to tell them that the tomb is empty, and angels have proclaimed Jesus is alive. What are they to make of it all? This is what two of his followers are discussing on their journey. Then Jesus, whom they are kept from recognizing, approaches, and asks what they are talking about. He listens intently as they catch him up to speed. Then he becomes their teacher as he interprets Scripture in a new way—as he interprets Scripture in light of himself.
Nearing the village, Jesus starts to walk on ahead, but they urge him to stay with them. Jesus, always gracious, accepts their hospitality. And it is there at their table that Jesus becomes the host, and it is there that they recognize him when he breaks bread. Immediately he vanishes and they race back to Jerusalem only to find the Eleven already saying, “It’s true! The Lord is risen!” To which they seem to confirm, “He is risen indeed!”
Lately, I daresay many of us have felt alone on Emmaus Road. During this pandemic, we have had to learn to navigate a darkness that has swept in to take over our lives. Within the darkness, we have wrestled with worry and doubt and we have questions: “Where is God in the midst of all of this? Who are we without our friends, co-workers, faith community? What do we do next? When will things return to normal? Who are the authority figures who have the people’s best interests at heart? Who can we believe? Who do we trust?” We yearn for answers. We want a foolproof map to guide us to our destination by the shortest possible route—out of the darkness and into the light!
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has brought sickness, death, and catastrophe beyond any of our life experiences. Yet might it also be true that, if we are open to the idea, it may bring us important lessons to carry into the future, into the light, to make us better people, better citizens, better Christians? Might the darkness actually have something to teach us? In a recent Facebook post, Laura Kelly Fannuci provides these words of wisdom:
When this is over,
may we never again take for granted;
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store,
Conversations with neighbors,
A crowded theater, Friday night out,
The taste of communion, A routine checkup,
The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend,
The stadium roaring, Each deep breath! A boring Tuesday. Life itself.
When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be,
we were called to be,
we hope to be,
and may we stay that way—better for each other because of the worst.
For two of Jesus’ believers, the Road to Emmaus is littered with broken dreams UNTIL Christ shows up. Darkness and hopelessness lose their power when Christ walks with them and talks with them and interprets Scripture for them. Then, at the Table, like he is prone to do, Jesus reveals himself as the Risen Lord. Still today, Jesus comes. He comes to show himself to us and to interpret our life in light of his own. In daylight or darkness, hope is ours because Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
*Cover Art “Road to Emmaus” by RaRa Schlitt, used by permission.