In the aftermath of the vile murder, the Gospels tell us, the disciples are bewildered, in shock, angry, ashamed, numb, empty. Jesus, the one in whom they had hoped, is gone. Worse still, most of them had turned and run away rather than face the hour of danger. In the day following Jesus’ burial, some of them are still running; two have even left Jerusalem, en route to a place called Emmaus, a town about seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. After all, why would they stay? It’s all over, isn’t it? Did the White House staff stay in Dallas after President Kennedy died? Of course not.
We can imagine what these two might have said to each other in the couple of hours the trip to Emmaus would have taken: “It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.” Yes, we can easily imagine saying such things, mainly because we have all said them. And what the two say next is even more familiar and poignant: “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Like you, I know that voice. It is the voice of grief: “We were hoping.” How many of us have uttered these same words? “We were hoping that he would live long enough to see his granddaughter graduate.” “We were hoping that they would find a cure in time.” “We were hoping that he would come home.” Like so many of you, I know from experience that mourning is the loneliest place in the world.
The Jesuits have a pithy motto that is supposed to sum up our approach to spirituality: “Finding God in all things.” In fact, it is this motto that informs this special issue on ministry. Yet the phrase is often misunderstood. People will tell me, for example: “I find God in all things. Like in nature. I find God in the sunset.” Well, that is a beautiful thought, and I find God there too. The truth though is that just about anybody can find God in a sunset. It’s not that hard. You want hard? Try finding God in an execution, or in cancer, or in AIDS, or war. Now that’s hard. You want to find God in nature? Try finding God in a tsunami or a crop failure. That’s hard.
Who can blame these disciples for their doubts? Doubt, after all, is not the opposite of faith. Certainty is the opposite of faith. Faith cannot be separated from doubt any more than Easter Sunday can be separated from Good Friday. The Lord himself acknowledges this when he says, “How slow of heart you are to believe all that the prophets spoke.”
And who could blame us for doubting as these two did? We live in a world not totally unlike theirs. The world is still beset by sin and injustice. How often have we picked up the newspaper, read about another scandal in our beloved church and said to ourselves: “It’s not supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way”?
Finding God in all things is hard, but it’s not impossible. The Jesuit Howard Gray once wrote that “God is found wherever love is needed the most.” If Father Gray is right, then we know why Jesus appears to the two disciples: They need him. They need his love. So Jesus ministers to them by healing their wounded hearts. “Then they said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way?’”
“Rejoice,” the psalmist enjoins us: “Rejoice! And let your hearts be glad; abide in confidence.” For the Lord’s promise, the promise he makes to us, the promise he made and kept to our forebears on the road, in the upper room and on the Vatican hill, is nothing less than the gift of himself, crucified and risen, in spirit and in sacrament; he is the blessed hope, always ready to reach inside and restart our broken hearts, to rejoice in our triumphs and bear with us in our hopes—no matter where we are on the road to Emmaus.