Journeying with Jesus: 3rd Sunday of Easter
Two disciples on the road to Emmaus had unknowingly run into Jesus. After Jesus had left, they kicked themselves for not recognising him the whole time he was with them. Clearly seeing the truth, they exclaim “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening Scripture to us?” (Luke 24:32).
Who hasn’t had one of those moments where we are a bit slow to pick up something?
Apart from wondering what Jesus must have looked like to them, I have always wondered that they didn’t recognise him from the way he talked about Scripture – “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). Perhaps this is why the disciples had been feeling uneasy.
Our family once had the amazing experience of joining my husband on a posting to Papua New Guinea. Once we lived there, I was surprised to find that trekking the Kokoda track was such a big venture. If you flew into Port Moresby on a Friday morning, it seemed about one third of the plane would be Kokoda trekkers. With their matching shirts and bright-eyed anticipation.
Most people we knew seemed to be either anticipating, training for, or recovering from a trekking experience on that famous track. The central theme of discussion being, how arduous it was to navigate. Those who set out to walk the 96km track required much preparation, concentration and varying levels of assistance from the local guides to navigate jungle terrain and slippery, wet hills. According to a travel brochure, “Hot and humid days with intensely cold nights, torrential rainfall and the risk of endemic tropical diseases such as malaria, make it a challenge to walk.” Lest we Forget the true bravery and courage of those who first walked that track.
I pondered Kokoda, and what it would mean to walk that track, on my own trek to climb Mount Ramelau, Timor Leste. The terrain was much like the Brindabellas and it was more of a long walk than a serious trek. However, I still found it required concentration and agility to navigate steep, narrow paths. Except for small breaks, to regather and catch our breath, our eyes would not have strayed much from the ground beneath us. We could have walked for days without appreciating the broader landscape of the place we were travelling through. As I walked, I imagined those Kokoda trekkers scrambling through thick jungle, all for the final revelation which would come at the end of the track. A revelation hopefully both visual and spiritual.
Perhaps this offers a metaphor for our journey through everyday life and faith. Much of the day to day can feel like scrambling through a jungle. We hope our scrambling takes us in the right direction, and I hope that the Hope-filled rely on their faith in this.
Working, parenting, caring, cleaning, cooking – a lot of life is simply looking down and placing one foot carefully in front of the other. Every now and then, we have moments where we seem to get to the ‘top of a hill’ and the landscape opens up before us. In these moments we get a glimpse of where we seem to be heading, or at least the next stage. Sometimes this gives us the opportunity to decide on a new destination.
These moments ‘on the hill’ also reveal where we have been. In the context of where we have ‘arrived’, every meandering step on the path to that point is redefined with distinct purpose. As the path that brought us to where we are now. “Of course!” we might say/discern, “didn’t we have a strong sense of this destination all along?” If you look back on your working life, isn’t it funny how all those random changes and ‘out of the blue’ opportunities look like a planned ‘career’?
I am writing these words on ANZAC Day 2020. A day of commemoration, forever connected to one of those ‘on the hill’ moments, both literally and ethereally, in Australia's journey as a Nation. Looking back at this history of sacrifice and heroism, victories and tragedies, Lest we Forget those who have died, or offer themselves up to die, something of who we are or hope to be is revealed.
Even those who scorn Scripture find themselves murmuring by candlelight, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)
This was my first ANZAC Day as a member of the Australian Defence Force. It had been looming large on the horizon for some time. The weight of what that should mean has not fully settled, if it ever can. How would I fit into the march I had been watching from the sideline for so long? How did I end up on this path? What is my identity in that blue uniform? This is a reflection on calling. A reflection all disciples (all of us!) are called to continuously make on our life long Christian journey. “Here I am Lord. I will go where you lead me. By the way, where is that? Wait, why am I here?”
I now have another year to work on this reflection. Perhaps also a tiny bit relieved I have another year to practice my marching skills.
I ponder these things with my chalice on the table before me. Idly picking it up as I search for some clarity of thought. As a chaplain in the Australian Defence Force, on ANZAC day, the fact that my chalice would have been issued to a British Army chaplain in WWI makes perfect sense.
Yet, on the day I received this chalice - an Ordination gift from a fellow Priest - I had certainly not imagined this chaplaincy. But “were not my heart burning within me” on the day I was offered this generous gift? This was before that sure burning I felt as I slowly grasped the gravity of what I would be entrusted to use that cup for.
It is just a cup. When I reflect on the journey this cup taken over the last century, and the many hands that have held it, all delivering it to my hand, I see that one day I too will have been nothing but one of those many anonymous hands. It drives me to take up my call with urgency. A call that leads me, like all disciples, to traverse a narrow track, seeking and sometimes finding a glimpse of Jesus. Only fully appreciating that I have seen him after he has gone, and yet that is enough to propel me forward - marching forward? - towards the next hill.
I have a heart for these journeying disciples. Fellow trekkers in a journey of life and faith. Every disciple had a glimpse of something, a sense of that “burning in their hearts” the very first time they met Jesus. He did not have to persuade any of the disciples to drop their nets, or their pens, grab their brothers, and leave their families to join him. Like those bright-eyed Kokoda trekkers flying into Port Moresby, all before them was anticipation.
These disciples could not see the destination. They spent three years scrambling along the path, trusting the guide, and when he seemed to have left them, they had no clear sight of where to go next. They “had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” and now he was gone. (Luke 24:21). Now the body was gone. Some of them had seen Angels. There was talk that Jesus was still alive. They could not see where this was going or settled into the weight of their Commission.
But they were still on the road. One step after another.
*Still telling the story to others. Even a stranger on the road to Emmaus.
*Still following that unspoken attraction. Insisting this curious stranger stay with them.
*Still following. They were confused but they had not packed it all in and gone home.
Still a bit too stuck looking at the ground for fear of stumbling, that they didn’t recognise they had actually reached their destination. Isn’t the destination Jesus? But, in their faithful trekking they reached the ‘top of the hill’, and Jesus was ultimately revealed to them.
“Ah ha! We knew there was something going on here, we just couldn’t put our finger on it.”
This glimpse - one moment of clarity within the chaos of life - was enough to send them running back to the others with renewed purpose, and declaring “The Lord has risen”. (Luke 24:34)
Life often offers us only brief opportunities to stop and catch our breath, and to stand and look out and appreciate the view ahead. Our Easter commemoration of the courage and sacrifice of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, invites us to celebrate our achievements along the track already travelled, and to set a new course for the next stage of the journey. This Easter season, with the entire world in the most unusual ‘pause’ only otherwise experienced in war, we are offered one of those opportunities on an extraordinary scale.
As you go about your lives, are you taking that time and stopping to look up, and out? Like a trusty guide on the Kokoda trail, Jesus will carry us if we need it. Let us not forget that he is there or fail to recognise him.
As Easter people, we are renewed and refreshed for the next season of challenges because we know that the Lord had risen. Alleluia!
May he live in us
And bear much fruit to his glory
Song for the Day: I have decided to follow Jesus, Steve Apirana