In Oklahoma, a botched execution looks a lot like torturing someone to death. In Nigeria, kidnapped girls are forced to wed opposition fighters. Tornadoes and flooding wreak havoc on the landscape. Closer to home, friends struggle with life and death medical decisions. A politician makes a mockery of baptism by using it in the same sentence with waterboarding.
Where is this New Creation, this Kingdom that Easter was supposed to be ushering in?
No wonder that Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) said to the man who joined them on the way, "We had hoped that he was the one...." Their world had crumbled. Everything they had counted on was shattered. They were headed home, back to try to pick up their lives where they had left off before getting caught up in all this Messiah stuff.
This is the problem with Easter. We're asked to believe that it makes a difference, begins a change, in a world that seems to get worse and worse. Like Cleopas, again, it is no wonder we (or at least I) have trouble recognizing the Risen Christ in all of this.
When they met Christ on the road, they did not, at first, recognize Him. They had heard the stories of the resurrection; but they were still turning them over in their broken hearts, trying to make sense of it all. Their idea of a Messiah did not include the kind of defeat that comes with a cross...in fact, that was the sign that a messiah had failed.
So Jesus walks them back through the scripture. Through the stories of God continuing to act to save His people, restore His world, and promising to draw all creation to Him. Jesus pointed out (I believe) the Isaiah passages about the Suffering Servant and how victory would be won through servanthood and sacrifice; how God continues to move this broken world toward reconciliation and redemption even through the crumbling bits of history and the horrors and tragedies of life. This, by the way, is not some inevitable march of humanity getting better and better-because, in fact, we're not. We're probably getting better in some ways (you can find evidence for that) and worse in others (the evidence for that is prolific). But this is God's action in the midst of the hideous situation.
Then, in the breaking of the bread, in the relational act of eating together, they recognized Him and He was gone.
There are many things we could say about this. Here is one of them: When we, you and I, get the 'Post-Easter Blues,' maybe we need to go back to scripture. Maybe we need to look at how God has, throughout history, moved in redemptive ways in the midst of life's horrors. Then, when we join with God in prayer, and others in worship and service, perhaps we too will become aware of the presence of the Risen Christ with us.
Does this sound like a cheap and easy answer? Some days, yes it does. But others, particularly those in which I have been able to worship with folks I have been involved with working for justice and acts of care and mercy....on those days it makes sense. Maybe the 'trick' is that I'm not looking at it all from a distance; but am joining myself to the Great Story of God's redemptive love. Maybe that's how we get our eyes opened.
One last thought.
I play the banjo. Not well, mind you, but I love to play. And I love the banjo's history. When slaves were brought from Africa they were forbidden to drum. Drums were not allowed. So.....they created this stringed instrument from a gourd, with a skin stretched over the opening in the body of the gourd. The banjo was originally a subversive instrument in which the drumming of their native lands was always an undercurrent every time they played.
That undercurrent of God's activity runs through the Hebrew text; it explodes into flesh in Jesus; and it reverberates in our lives as we live out the Gospel in acts of the kind of mercy, love and justice that Jesus lived and taught. I'm not sure about "God's Trombones" but I'm pretty sure that we're "God's banjos." We are called to follow Jesus; to obey the command to imitate His life "teaching them to observe everything that I've commanded you." The command to love the neighbor, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, and preach freedom to the captive. We do this....even when....no, especially when......executions look a lot like torture; the land is flooded; friends struggle with difficult decisions; and politicians mock our faith in support of torture. Easter happens in the middle of this mess; and we live out an Easter faith in the middle of all its horror and turmoil.
Christ Is Risen...Christ Is Risen Indeed....Go into all the world.