By. Rev. Fr. AMEH Sylvanus
Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35
Theme: Keeping Faith Alive
After the events of Good Friday to Easter Sunday, a lot of things happened to the disciples of Jesus, a lot ran through their minds. Among other things, there was a mighty big feeling of disappointment among them. They were disappointed in Jesus, and they were gripped with fear. This resulted in the temporary dispersal of the group. As recorded in John 21:3, Peter said “I am going fishing.” Going fishing means going back to his former life, back to where and what he was before Jesus called him. And some opted to go with him.
In today’s gospel text, which shall be the focus of our reflection, two other disciples were also going back to their place, to Emmaus. Note that they were leaving Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the political and religious capital of the Jews. It was the City of God. To move away from Jerusalem therefore, is to move away from the presence of God, and any movement away from God, is a movement in the wrong direction. And while they were making this journey, Jesus came along, and in their chat with him, they told him the fundamental reason for their leaving. They said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel, but our leaders delivered him up to death and killed him.” In other words, we had faith in him, but that faith has been dashed; we have lost our faith. Well, Jesus was right there with them, so he helped them to recover their faith. To keep their faith alive, three things stand out in the gospel reading, and by these three things also, we too can keep our faith alive when it is threatened.
1. Sharing the burden
Psychologically, sharing a burden with someone helps make it lighter, hence, the saying, “A problem shared is half solved.” The sharing of their burden with this stranger was the beginning of the regaining of their waning faith. But who else can we better share our burden with if not Jesus? As scriptures tells us in Matthew 11:28, Jesus says “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest” and in 1 Peter 5:7, we are admonished to cast all our burdens upon the Lord, for he cares for us. Though the disciples tried to run away from their troubles, Jesus came to share it with them. We too shall realize sometimes, that our trials, our burdens, our troubles, tend to draw us far away from God. God never abandons us; rather, we are the ones who abandon God. God’s word says in Psalm 16:10, “You will not abandon my soul to death.” But even when we move away from God, he still comes searching for us. He came to meet these two disciples on their way to Emmaus; when Peter went fishing with the others as recorded in John 21:1ff, Jesus also came to meet them there. God will always be there for us, but we need to talk to him. I know that many of us are burdened either psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, physically or financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us all be assured of the presence of Jesus with us through these times, and let this knowledge lead us into deeper union and communication with him.
2. The journey through scriptures
In Isaiah 55:8, the word of God says “My ways are not your ways…” Indeed, God’s choice of how to redeem the world surely defies human logic. Couldn’t God have redeemed the world without Jesus’ death? The very powerful, miracle working man that these disciples saw as the Messiah was brutally and shamefully executed before their very eyes, and by their understanding, he had failed them. Little did they know that this was the process of the actualization of their dreams. So Jesus helped them to understand all this by taking them on a journey through scriptures. Many times, we too will find ourselves in situations when we think that God has failed us, abandoned us, or rejected us. One very good example is this period in which almost the whole world has shut down to fight the coronavirus disease. However, God’s word is full of promises and proofs that God never abandons his people. But we will not know this if we do not study the bible, the living, written word of God. For every challenge we face in life, God has made a promise about it in the bible, but we will not know unless we study. little wonder God said through the prophet Hosea that “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hos 4:6). Many people today do not seem to understand what is happening in the world; they cannot come to terms with why places of worship had to be closed down; they cannot fathom why it is taking so long to find a cure for the coronavirus disease. In all of these and many other confusions which may becloud our minds, let us turn to God’s for answers, for encouragement and for strength. When your faith begins to wane, turn to God and listen to him as he speaks to you through his word.
3. Gathering with believers
After breaking the word and the bread, the two disciples recognized Jesus and afterwards, hurried back to the community of believers in Jerusalem. The news that the other disciples have also seen the risen Lord would surely have dispelled any remaining doubts about the vision they saw. This would ultimately have one big effect: keep their faith in Jesus alive. “Do not forsake the gathering of the believers” (Heb 10:25) is an injunction of scriptures we need to give serious thought to. When we gather together as believers, we are able to share our faith experiences and encourage those who are weak or in crisis. If on the other hand, we neglect such gatherings, we may be faced with the challenge of bearing our burdens alone. There is great power in community. However, some may say “But we cannot gather as a community of believers now because churches are closed.” To such people I say, do not forget that the family is a domestic church; it is in fact the first point of contact between the human person and God. It is in the family that the seed of the faith is planted. And every time people gather as a family for prayers and the study of the Word of God, God is present in their midst, for “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst” (Mat 18:20). In fact, this period when the church buildings are closed is one that families should take advantage of to rebuild and reawaken the communal/family prayer life that they may have neglected for long. While the church as an institution may be closed, the church as a family must be opened, and even in that community of the family, we shall find courage and strength. When you are having a faith crisis, try to spend time in a gathering of other believers, including your family, and watch how courage will gradually return to you. It is my earnest prayer that the Lord Jesus be there to help us to keep our faith alive, especially in our moments of challenges, fear and doubt such as during this coronavirus pandemic. Amen