April 26, 2020
Mary Luti is one of the writers for the UCC’s daily devotional that gets emailed out. I always love it when her name pops up in my inbox because she never fails to inspire, or inform, or offer a perspective that leaves me a little better off than I was before. This one from April 7 came to mind for today.
“In a recent article, science writer Ferris Jabr describes the molecular properties of soap that make it one of our most effective defenses against invisible pathogens. Just a single drop of soap in water, he writes, is enough to disrupt and kill all manner of nasty bugs, including this scary new one.
No one knows who first discovered soap, or when. But whenever it was, it completely altered human history. In an age of robotic surgery and gene therapy, the most wondrous of wonder drugs turns out to be an ancient ordinary thing.
The things that protect and heal us are not always new, technologically exotic, costly, or rare. Sometimes what makes us whole are the same old things our grandmothers recommended, the remedies our ancestors believed in, the ancient ordinary things that have helped us for a long, long time.
Like a Bible verse, a slow reciting of the Lord’s own prayer, old hymns you sing by heart.
Like saying grace at meals, and “Now I lay me down to sleep” when sleep is nigh.
Like a forgiving word, a graceful thought, a covered dish set down outside a needy neighbor’s door.
Like patience in hard times and thankfulness at all times.
Like calling on Jesus, who is with us always, even as he said.”
What reminded me of this reflection, a few weeks after having first read it, is Luke’s very famous “Road to Emmaus,” story, which the lectionary writers have given us for this third Sunday of Easter. Taken on its own it is easy to miss that this story happens on the same day that the women go to the tomb and find it empty – empty, that is, except for “two men in dazzling clothes” (presumably angels) who say, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
The Road to Emmaus encounter is actually the first resurrection appearance of Jesus recorded by Luke. And, it is pretty remarkable if you think about it; remarkable, that is, in a certain kind of way. Here we have the Incarnation of the eternal God, the very Word of God made flesh, who has subjected himself to human rejection, suffered the pain of torture, the anguish of the cross, the destruction of death, the darkness of the tomb, and has conquered it all – risen through it to reveal God’s victory and a vision of the culmination of God’s plan of salvation for all of creation, and what does Jesus do? He takes a long walk on a quiet road with two grieving disciples.
You would think, given the cosmic consequences, that there would be some heavenly theatrics, some divine drama, but instead what we have is a quiet (maybe “common”?) resurrection. A Jesus who isn’t too busy to walk down the road with us, and isn’t too fancy to be revealed in something as simple as the breaking of the bread.
Here’s what Debie Thomas says about it:
“But the Emmaus story speaks to this power — the power of the small and the commonplace to reveal the divine. God shows up during a quiet evening walk on a backwater road. God is made known around our dinner tables. God reveals God’s self when we take, bless, break, and give. God is present in the rhythms and rituals of our seemingly ordinary days.
What does this mean right now? It means God is in the text you send to the lonely neighbor you can’t visit during quarantine. God appears in the Zoom gathering, the livestream worship service, the phone call, the greeting card. Jesus is the stranger you see across the street when you walk your dog — both of you smiling beneath your protective masks. The sacred is in the conversation you have with your stir-crazy child, the technology you attempt to master so that you can talk to your friends across the distances, the loved one who challenges you to reframe the story of these days in the light of God’s inexplicable provision and love. If the Emmaus story tells us anything, it tells us that the risen Christ is not confined in any way by the seeming smallness of our lives. Wherever and whenever we make room, Jesus comes.”
We have a God of ancient ordinary things – a God who uses what is at hand to reveal the holy, make the common sacred, and bring life into what otherwise feels lifeless.
I was scrolling through some video resources the other day and I came across an interview with renowned biblical scholar, NT Wright. He was asked what he might say to his children from his deathbed. I was expecting some uniquely profound theological insight about the abundant grace of God or perhaps some deep expression of a wise father’s love and the encouragement to live freely and faithfully. Instead, he said that he would tell his children to read the gospels more regularly. Anybody could have said that, I thought. So, I was a little disappointed at first. But, there’s a beauty in that advice as well. He wasn’t telling his children to come close and listen to what he had learned about God. He was telling them to come close to God. He said, “The more we read the gospels the more we discover that the person who walks out of those pages to meet us is central and irreplaceable. And, he’s always a surprise. There is always more of him.”
So, I picked up my bible, that ancient and ordinary thing that’s sitting in most of our homes, and I read the gospel of Mark. Yes, I chose that one because it is the shortest, but also because it is my favorite! What I noticed this time was the pacing. Everything moves so quickly. Mark wastes no time and neither does Jesus. People flock to him not because they know him or understand him – there’s no time for that. They come because they need him, because he’s where the hope and healing are. Everywhere he goes the crowds storm him. Once, they even cut a hole through the roof of his house to get close to him. Can you imagine? And, Wright is right about the surprises: there’s always more; the people closest to Jesus are always amazed: They are amazed by his teachings, amazed by his healings, amazed they they are sent out to do the same, amazed at the feeding of the 5,000, amazed by the transfiguration and the walking on water and the calming of the storm. There is always something more to be amazed by. Of course, ultimately, they are amazed by the empty tomb, his presence among them, and his Spirit within them.
It’s a fast gospel, and in all of its momentum, amazement, and energy what emerged most powerfully and clearly for me as I read was Christ’s (and therefore God’s) motivation: it was compassion. There’s compassion on every page, and in almost every encounter. It stops him everywhere he goes and takes priority over and over again.
Normally, reading long stretches of scripture is a bit laborious for me. But, not this time. I got caught up in Mark’s pacing and Christ’s compassion, and the person who walked off those ancient ordinary pages to meet me said the same thing the risen Jesus says to all his disciples, “Peace be with you,” and I have to say, peace is what I felt.
I hope you’ll hear those words for yourself as well, “Peace be with you.” Find comfort in a common resurrection and the transformative power of small things. And, when you find it, when the holy happens, would you please tell somebody about it? I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want to hear.