Luke’s story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus is one I have been working with recently and in an era where the Gospel is alien to many this story resonates with people of all ages and convictions. Maybe it speaks because of the lack of recognition of Jesus, or perhaps there is curiosity around the question of why Jesus doesn’t reveal himself immediately. However, I can’t help but wonder if the quality that endears most is the fact that we recognise something of ourselves in these two disciples.
Two phrases strike me from the story, “We had hoped” and “Did our hearts not burn within us?” The past nineteen months have been traumatic and throughout the pandemic we each have experienced something of the loss and shock expressed in the words “We had hoped”. The words don’t come close to communicating the anguish felt by the two disciples nor do they articulate the sense of loss felt by many during the pandemic. The pain of separation from loved ones coupled to shock felt through the losses experienced during this time have been difficult, and such emotions are compounded by separation from the many Christian communities that support, nourish, and give life to countless people. Yet I sense we must also acknowledge that a quiet revolution has been happening, for many have found space to pray and reflect deeply on what matters most in life.
The landscape of Lough Neagh is one I have loved since childhood and yet it has taken this pandemic to reconnect me with it and its Christian heritage. Living close to Ardboe Cross and Abbey on Lough Neagh’s shores the unique spirituality that resides in the landscape has struck me and daily life during pandemic has been walks on the shore with prayer within the ruins of St. Colman’s abbey that dates to 590AD. I have used the words “I had hoped” many times during the last 19 months and this landscape and the uniqueness of its Christian heritage has been a haven for me. Just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus I have had reframe my reality, let go of the hopes I had for this time, resetting plans and expectations.
In some ways the experience of pandemic has been graced and clarifying for if I’m honest it has helped me take stock and find words to articulate the depth of my Christian conviction. Just like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus I have been able to personally encounter and experience Christ and his message through the landscape of Lough Neagh and its heritage. Cleopas and his companion on their way back to the Jerusalem asked, “Did our hearts not burn”? For me it’s perhaps been more of a slow burn, yet I emerge from the pandemic with a clarity of thought and renewed commitment to Christian life.
Pedro Arrupe in a letter to the Society of Jesus in 1978 said,
“The Christian experience in a given culture has an influence that transforms and renews and, perhaps after a crisis of confrontation, leads to a fresh wholeness in that culture.”
As we emerge from the challenges presented by Covid 19 I ask if, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we might emerge with new insight and perspectives that allow us to collectively consider the wealth of our local Church, its traditions and its people? Can we return to community with a ‘fresh wholeness’ and a renewed sense of purpose?
Janet Forbes is from Ardboe, Co. Tyrone and is studying MA Theology and Ministry at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.