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Walking Together

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection HERE.

Safer at Home. By my counting this is Day 33. Thirty-three days of Zoom meetings and worshiping online. As I read the Bible passage this week, the action of walking caught my attention. Because, for me, the past 33 days have been filled with lots and lots of walks.

How about you? Have you been going on walks? If so, what have they been like? Do they feel any different? Do you walk with anyone? Have you encountered people in your neighborhood you didn’t know? Or, is your neighborhood silent?

This is a time in which where we walk, and how we walk, is not so simple. We have been tossed into a time of “nothing-makes-sense”-ness.

Which is not all that unlike the 2 people walking along a dusty road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. This story, which is beloved by many in the Christian faith, offers a lot of Truth to our life right now.

For in many ways, we are living into the same story. In his commentary on the passage from Luke this week Rev. Dr. Matt Skinner reminds us that, “This scene is set on the same day as the women’s discovery of the empty tomb… We learn that two disciples are walking, leaving Jerusalem to make the seven-mile jaunt to Emmaus… Do they fear for their lives now that Jesus has been executed? We don’t really know. All Luke tells us is that they are grieved about their recent experience. They are talking to one another, hoping to make sense of the nonsensical, when Jesus himself walks alongside them and joins them on their journey.”[1]

Jesus was dead. Yet something was happening. The Bible tells us that following Jesus’s death this particular day, and the days ahead, were filled with liminal spaces—rifts in the veil between life and death. The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains “liminal” in this way, “Because the sensory threshold is a transitional point where sensations are just beginning to be perceptible, liminal acquired two extended meanings. It can mean ‘barely perceptible’ and is now often used to mean ‘transitional or ‘intermediate’, as in “the liminal zone between sleep and wakefulness.’”[2]

This idea of being in a place, an in-between moment, seems to fit where we are at with the pandemic.

If you remember, back in December there were initial reports of some sort of trouble. An unknown illness impacting a community a world away from us. In a few short months, our understanding of our own personal safety and vulnerability, and the vulnerability of our loved ones, has suddenly become all too real. In 33 days we have gone from being together in our beautiful building on Lacy Road, to learning about this thing called “Zoom” and building a Virtual Church. It has warmed my heart to see who joins us here, in this digital space, and on FaceBook. Each and every one of you has contributed to the affirmation that Church is more than the walls of the building.

And we stand here… or sit here… in liminal space. So what is our next step?

How.. and when…  and will we… can we… reopen the church?

What will “church” look like?

Who will feel safe coming back?

What are the good parts of our digital experience that we will want to maintain?

In what ways are we recognizing Jesus along the way as we navigate the pandemic? Where might liminal, transformational events—like those on the road to Emmaus—be taking place?

For I believe that Jesus in these “spaces between.” The space between the reality that as the “two of them” walked along, they were stopped in their tracks. We… have been stopped in our tracks.

They… had lost something, someone, dear to them. They had lost a movement, a way of life, they loved. These were two people who were grieving. During the pandemic, I have often found myself frozen in such a space as I watch the news. I am brokenhearted by the global suffering of those who are sick with this disease, and those who have died from COVID-19. I tear up with the grief thinking about their loved ones who cannot be with them, and the void around the all hospital beds and homes of those who are suffering with this illness alone. Like the wanderers on the road to Emmaus, I stand there looking, and feeling, sad. I watch video after video of the poignant stories told by healthcare workers and all that they are doing… and witnessing.

It is in this in-between space, even deeper human tragedies are unveiled. This virus has shown us—yes—we are all in this crisis together, but we are also walking the path through the illness in ways which diverge along economic and racial lines. The coronavirus has revealed to us ever more clearly the systemic brokenness of our country.

For example, in the need for schools to shift to online classes, we cannot unsee the economic and resource divide between students who have access to online learning, and those who don’t[3]. This virus, which does not know race, has bared before us ugly racial disparities which have long existed. Just this week, statistics in Wisconsin indicate that of the people who have died from the coronavirus, 33% have been black[4]. That is 33% in a state in which people who are black make up less than 7% of our population[5].  Chronic poverty, the scarcity of healthy food in low income neighborhoods, and the lack of accessible, affordable healthcare[6] have contributed to these inequities.  

There are so many more stories we could tell. We could talk about the concerns we have around the people who are currently incarcerated. Kelli Thompson, from the State Public Defender’s office, said this week that people in our prisons and jails “should not be facing a death sentence due to COVID and overcrowding… nor should the staff.”

These facts… make us stand still. We have heard, and we know… all the things that have taken place in these days. There are soooooo many reasons for us to stand still, to look… and to feel… sad.

It is in this liminal, in-between space, we gather in hopes of making sense of the nonsensical. These are the times, these are the places, in which Jesus appeared on the road—and continues to appear on the road—walking alongside us on our journey.

It is in our recognition that God IS HERE, that our hearts begin to burn. Change can happen. Suddenly, our walks take on a whole new meaning. Celebrating communion virtually, breaking bread on Zoom, shows us the ways through which God fills in the gaps.

As we have followed Jesus out of the building and into uncertain places, I have found myself turning to the affirmation of faith offered by the United Church of Canada[7]. It gives me peace, and my heart burns anew with hope for the future.

Thus, I leave you with these words:

We are not alone,
    we live in God’s world.

 We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God. 

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God’s presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Luke 24:13-35 offered Sunday, April 26, 2020.

[1] Barreto, Eric. “Commentary on Luke 24:13-35 by Eric Barreto.” Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Eric Barreto – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed April 24, 2020. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4442.

[2] “Liminal.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Accessed April 25, 2020. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/liminal#other-words.

[3] Goldstein, Dana, Adam Popescu, and Nikole Hannah-jones. “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out.” The New York Times. The New York Times, April 6, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/us/coronavirus-schools-attendance-absent.html.

[4] “COVID-19: Wisconsin Summary Data.” Wisconsin Department of Health Services, April 24, 2020. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/data.htm.

[5] “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Wisconsin.” Census Bureau QuickFacts. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WI.

[6] Aubrey, Allison. “Who’s Hit Hardest By COVID-19? Why Obesity, Stress And Race All Matter.” NPR, NPR, 18 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/18/835563340/whos-hit-hardest-by-covid-19-why-obesity-stress-and-race-all-matter.

[7] “A New Creed (1968).” The United Church of Canada, October 16, 2019. https://www.united-church.ca/community-faith/welcome-united-church-canada/new-creed.