I find great consolation in our Easter Season scripture passages. Jesus responds to the disciples of old with the same grace and kindness that I often crave. On the Second Sunday of Easter, John’s gospel (20:19-31) related the tale of Thomas’ struggle when his fellow disciples insisted that they’d seen the Risen Lord. Jesus himself returned to invite Thomas back into the realm of believers. Though his observation of Thomas’s unbelief seems harsh, Jesus pursued Thomas until he won him over. Why else would Jesus return when Thomas was present? Jesus came to forgive Thomas and to call Thomas back into his future. Jesus fully appreciated the contribution Thomas would make to God’s Family. Because he had walked in their shoes, Thomas would soften the hardened hearts of many skeptics along the way.
This Sunday, Luke’s Gospel (24:35-48) begins as two disciples’ describe their journey on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’ death. As they walked, Cleopas and his friend shook their heads as they reflected. Jesus offered such hope just a week earlier when he entered Jerusalem in triumph. Who knew that he would be dead by the start of the next Sabbath? Still, in spite of his heinous demise, some women in their party reported a vision of angels at Jesus’ empty tomb. When others went to verify the women’s story, they found the scene as the women described. This is the reason Cleopas and his companion were so confused by the stranger whom they encountered along the way. This man appeared to know nothing of the events that turned their world upside down. The two wondered how anyone near Jerusalem could have missed the news of Jesus’ condemnation and death. Yet, as they walked along, these disciples found that this seemingly uninformed stranger enlightened them regarding many things. This mysterious companion spoke of Moses and numerous other prophets to explain each reference made to the Christ. This stranger insisted that what happened to the Christ should have been no surprise to anyone who attended carefully to the scriptures. His suffering was prerequisite to his glory.
When the stranger prepared to leave them, Cleopas and his friend urged him to join them for the evening meal. He agreed. Later, when the three ate together, the stranger broke bread and revealed his identity. Immediately, Cleopas and his companion hurried back to the others to share what they’d learned and with whom they’d just walked. The disciples’ response echoed the disbelief Thomas expressed just a week earlier. In the midst of this conversation, Jesus appeared once again. Though Jesus greeted them with, “Peace be with you,” the disciples trembled with terror. In spite of the women’s sighting at the tomb and all that Cleopas had just told them, they believed they were being accosted by a ghost. Only when Jesus ate a bit of fish did they recognize that, indeed, Jesus was with them.
I won’t criticize Thomas or Cleopas or any of the disciples regarding their bouts with disbelief. How often have I shaken my head and wrung my hands over this life’s troubles? My sister Cecele’s fight-for-your-life battle with cancer weighs heavily upon those of us who love her. Just think of what it’s doing to her! I sadly admit that along the way I’ve sometimes allowed this battle to threaten my joy. Though I try very hard to live with joy, my worry has sometimes driven my joy into hiding. Fortunately, our Risen Lord has made his presence known to my cancer-battling sister in many joyful and peace-giving ways. Fortunately for me, I’ve been wise enough to follow my sister’s lead. Like Cleopas and Cecele, I’ve learned to recognize the Lord when I need him most.
When life is tough, I’m tempted to bury my face in my pillow or to hide under a quilt in my easy chair because I’ve foolishly convinced myself that everything depends upon my own effort. When I finally muster the courage to peek out at those challenges, I try to imitate Cleopas and Cecele. I pick myself up and get myself going. I return to the table, listen to the word, break bread and look deep within myself. In all of this, I find the joy and the peace that eluded me. Though I will certainly stumble again, Christ remains, sometimes in spite of my unbelief, for as long as I need him. In my case, this will be a very, very long time!
©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved