Scripture for the third Sunday of Easter:
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35 (the road to Emmaus)
Shirley Raines is a lady who lives in LA, who for years has been feeding the homeless and has continued her efforts during the pandemic. When asked in an interview broadcast as part of last Sunday’s ‘One World Together At Home’ concert, she replied: “Because I love them.”
The publisher of a book by American journalist Jack Jenkins wrote about the interview this week, to remind us that it is people like Shirley – those who actually live out Jesus’ teaching that we love and care for one another, and who act concretely to oppose what is unjust, and make sure that we live up to our ideals – these are the people who start movements, make us uncomfortable, and eventually, with God’s help, sway us to listen to the better angels of our nature and change.
In fact, we may see this as part of a biblical pattern. God hears the cries of those in need; God disturbs the waters and blows through winds of change; a few special people heed the call; their actions trouble our consciences; and, hopefully, with a chain effect, we begin to change our ways.
Shirley Raines’ answer, “Because I love them,” ought to be the clarion call for Christian life. The pandemic has made us see anew what we have lived with for a long time: the needy are not being cared for adequately and so they suffer disproportionately. We have not provided equal opportunity or access to the fruits of our society. We have failed to create systems to make sure our neighbours are taken care of. We just have not recognised much of this until the pandemic brought it into brutal focus.
The gospel account of the road to Emmaus is lack of recognition. And questions are often asked about this. Why didn’t they recognise him? A simple answer might be: because people don’t see what they are not looking for. (And not because they should have gone to SpecSavers!)
In fact, it’s all very well to ponder the lack of recognition of Christ a couple of thousand years ago. But we blindly turn our vision away from recognising the Christ in the poor, the immigrant, the person with mental health problems who self-medicates into addiction, and so on, the equivalent of the widows and orphans of our own times for whom we are instructed to care – the people whom Shirley Raines cares for because she loves them.
We are on a long journey. How we live on this journey is as important – if not more so – than getting to its end. On the road to Emmaus it was the journey that provided the opportunity for learning so that the climax at the destination could be revealed. And we are walking along a path that, despite the celebration of resurrection at Easter, two weeks ago, still feels rather like an extended Lent.
I heard a Moslem professor speaking this week about Ramadan, which began on Friday, and the way in which, like many Christian festivals that have become commercialised, Ramadan in Moslem-majority countries is turning into more of a holiday, more focused around consumption – which means this sacred month is increasingly being promoted as a product.
She suggested that relative isolation and less activity will help guide the faithful back to what’s really important – prayer for forgiveness, self- reflection, gratitude and betterment of character; the chance to stretch the imagination, to appreciate the worth of all human life, to carry out greater acts of kindness and charity, to see and feed the hungry. Now – that sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it?
It made me think of our extended Lent and what it is focused on – or meant to be focused on. So as we journey on this extended Lenten experience, even while trying to celebrate the good news and joy of resurrection in the Easter season, let’s try to find it in our hearts to let God’s love flow through us into the way we live our lives. Let’s be open to the wind of change blowing through the pandemic. And let’s be open to new ways of living – and loving our neighbours as ourselves.