category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Traveling Companions

By Rachael Keefe

On the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death, I find myself thinking about all the roads I have traveled – literally and figuratively. I’ve been on roads in many states and a few other countries. Some were crowded city roads and others were quiet rural roads. I’ve traveled on foot, …

Traveling Companions

On the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death, I find myself thinking about all the roads I have traveled – literally and figuratively. I’ve been on roads in many states and a few other countries. Some were crowded city roads and others were quiet rural roads. I’ve traveled on foot, on bicycle, on motor cycle, in cars as passenger and driver, and on buses. Many miles and many places. Sometimes I had great company and other times uncomfortable companions. Many times I traveled alone. And one very memorable time I was accompanied by a herd of dairy cows.

That was on a mountainous road in the North East Kingdom of Vermont many years ago. I was riding my new mountain bike and had gone several miles when a bolt fell off the front tire. Since I was young and not an experienced cyclist, I didn’t have any tools with me. My solution was to pick up my bike and walk home. As I carried the bike on one shoulder with the tire in my other hand, I made my ways slowly along the very rural road. Occasionally, cars would pass and slow down with driver and passengers staring at me as they went. This annoyed me each time it happened. After about 45 minutes of this happening (maybe 6 cars), I stopped, set down my bike, and turned around. The passing cars weren’t staring at me; they were amused, no doubt, by the 30 or so cows following me on the other side of the fence. I laughed. What else could I do.

Most of my traveling hasn’t had such amusing company. I think about the times I was on roads to run away from where I had been. Sometimes, even to run toward something new. Roads that led to new people and places. Roads that led to new places that would become home. Roads so filled with memories that tears of longing come to my eyes. So many people, places, experiences… life. I am grateful for those who have shared the journey on the long drives and the short trips. There are more roads ahead, I’m sure. I wonder who I will meet and where I will go…

These thoughts lead me to the two who were on the road to Emmaus on that first Easter day. Cleopas and the unnamed one. Were they going home? Had they been in Jerusalem just for Passover and were heading back to resume their everyday life? Had they been part of the larger group of disciples and now didn’t have a place to be and so were moving on? Were they heading to friends who didn’t yet know all that had happened? Were they running away from Jerusalem or toward Emmaus? The scriptures don’t tell us. All we know is that they were on the road to Emmaus and were joined by an unexpected travel companion.

Who among us wouldn’t want this companion to travel with us? He listened to all they had to say. Then he invited them deeper into the Mystery of their experiences. He stayed with them and ate with them. Then, as they broke bread, their eyes were opened and the Spirit burned within them. Now I’ve taken some walks and had a sense of the Spirit’s presence in some places, but nothing like this. But what if I’ve journeyed with the Risen Christ and not known it? What if we all have?

In these days of COVID-19 and physical distancing the idea of a long journey in the company of friends sounds awesome in and of itself. However, what might change for us if we start actively expecting the Risen Christ to accompany us? What if we look for the Holy One all the time and everywhere? Would the masked faces of strangers be transformed into friends or siblings? Would our fears be lessened? Would we be able to breathe more deeply knowing that Christ is with us on these strange and uncertain roads we are traveling? Would it make a difference to know that God is listening to our hearts and inviting us deeper into the Mystery that is our lives?

I think it might. We know that what is coming out of the Oval Office is mostly nonsense and meant to invoke fear and foster division and hatred. Instead of giving in to that, let’s think about those “others” we meet on our streets as if they were the Risen Christ. Let’s think about those faces we see on the news as companions on the journey. We are all needing someone to listen to our experiences, validate our fears, calm our anxious minds.

Right now, there is no equality on the journey. All of us are not in the same boat. All of us are not traveling the same road or with adequate supplies. If we are looking for the Risen Christ, then when our eyes are opened we will see the inequity and how this virus is magnifying the pre-existing conditions created by systemic racism. We will see that the President is making this worse and black people are dying at much higher rates than white folx. We will see income gaps getting bigger and education disparities widening. Perhaps the injustice will burn within us and motivate us to move differently in this world.

After all, we cannot go back to what was any more than those two on that ancient road could have gone back to whatever life they had before the crucifixion and resurrection. There is no going back to “normal” after COVID-19. Something new will emerge in the coming months and years. The question is whether we are on a road that will lead to new life because we are open to the Mystery of Resurrection or are we remaining on a road that is more akin to crucifixion because we are unwilling to risk change for the sake of our companions on the journey.

We are all on the journey. With whom are we traveling? Do we recognize the Risen Christ who accompanies us? Will we allow our eyes to be opened and our hearts to burn within us?

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

Photo: CC0image by René Schindler

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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