Facebook and the Road to Emmaus

“The Disciples at Emmaus”

Pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn (c 1655)

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Luke 24:13-35 (see end of post for this text)

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          I wonder.  If Cleopas and his friend had been on Facebook the day they took their long walk to Emmaus, would they have thought to post a picture of themselves walking along the road with this stranger?  Probably not.  They were sad.  Standing still sad, Luke tells us.  Numb.  Not long ago they had been celebrating as their leader had ridden into Jerusalem.  Had been so sure that God’s kingdom had come at last.  But then.  But then!  Just three days ago they had seen all their Messiah hopes hanging limp and lifeless on a cross. 

          So what now?  Then, too, what to make of the tale some of their women-folk were spreading?  An empty tomb and angels saying Jesus was alive again.  All too much.  A gray mist of doubts and questions shrouded their lives.  Nothing made any sense.  And then this intrusive stranger.  This intrusive stranger who seemed oblivious of all that was happening.  Not welcome.  Most certainly not a good time to post a FB picture.

          Most of our posts on FB are posts of fun, joy, beauty, and abundance in our lives.  Nothing wrong with this, but I worry sometimes that FB posting can be deceptive.  Deceptive, because it can project—not only to our friends, but to ourselves as well, the sense that our lives are, or at least are supposed to be, always carefree, beautiful, exciting.  Nothing amiss.  The sun forever shining on us.  Our cups always filled to the brim.  Evidence, we tend to think, though we’d never admit to this, that we are favored and blessed.

          Of course that’s not the way things are.  We all walk that dark road to Emmaus over and over and over again in our lives.  Hopes dashed.  Difficulties overwhelming.  Circumstances paralyzing.  Questions without answers.  Mists and doubts clouding our paths. 

          I’m most certainly not advocating we post these dark times on Facebook.  They are moments far too intimate to share on social media.  But I do want to urge myself and all of us to be fully present to these murky times.  To accept them, difficult as they may be.  To ponder them.  To pray through them.  Perhaps even to post these dark times on the facebook walls of our souls.  To re-visit them from time to time.  Let them help to keep us grounded in reality.  Let them remind us that life is forever filled with both abundance and emptiness.  “Abundance and destitution,” says Christian Wiman in My Bright Abyss, “are two facets of the one face of God, and to be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is to recall one when we are standing squarely in the midst of the other.”    

          To be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is also to remember that in every dark time, as well as in every bright time, the Stranger of Emmaus who “came near and went with them” also comes near and walks with us.  We may not always recognize him.  We may at times, like those Emmaus disciples, wish he would just leave us alone.  But always he walks with us.  Always he listens to us.  Always he blesses us with his very real presence.    

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Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”


 

 

Riding to Death: a Palm Sunday Poem

“Ride on, ride on, in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die.”

Henry H. Milman

He knew what was coming, but that did not

stop him; he relished the palms swishing

their homage in the gentle spring breeze,

accepted the accolades, the jeers as well,

knowing deep within that the very stones

upon the roughened ground would cry out

if they could, to shout their joyous affirmation

of his life, even though he rode now to his death,

jolting along on the back of a silly animal, ears

flapping in the wind, hoofs trampling

brightly colored robes of adoration.

*

To his death he rode, a death with arms spread

wide to lift God’s love beneath a hiding sun,

patterning for us how we might face our final

ride to bid farewell to this good earth;

teaching us, when that long journey comes,

to welcome accolade of voices, those within

and those nearby, embalming us in love

and singing the importance of our dust soon

to return to dust; to hear the growing silence

on our donkey-legged beds become the very stones

beneath the Savior’s feet, crying out  

the worth of every minute of our falling to the earth;

to see again those cross-wide-open arms,

that stone unhinged, that open door,

a promised rising from these fusty winding sheets.

Gray Days: a Lenten Poem

Disheartening, unsettling, dark,

the drabness of these backyard winter days;

my world is weeping, weeping

for the spindly shrubs befuddled

by the warming climate’s ups and downs,

for Monarch wings that used to flit

across my deck as they journeyed

to a home now vanishing,

as other homes are vanishing

amidst the storms of nature, war,

and words that label and demean.

*

I want to turn away from this abyss,

but the drabness pulls at me;

something in the air within

this hostile gray, a tenderness,

faint echo of a song sung long ago

by Spirit as she moved across

the murky waters of the deep;

grace notes, scattered in the ashes

of last summer’s grass, spill across

the stones, reaching to the spindly

shrubs now shrouded in the mist,

hushed music of the spheres

enclosed within the silence of eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Never-Ending Last Supper?

Café Terrace at Night (1888)

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

          A simple, serene painting of a starry evening at a café in Arles?  Or, perhaps, a fresh re-visioning of the last supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples?

          Van Gogh was decidedly not overtly religious at the time of this painting.  In fact, his life was quite the opposite of “religious.”  He was drinking heavily, smoking heavily, frequently visiting brothels.  He looked upon the church with disdain, and in a letter from 1880, wrote that a priest in his surplice “looks like a dangerous rhinoceros.” 

          His life had not always been so.  Raised by a Dutch Reformed pastor and a strict, pious mother in the Netherlands, he had himself aspired to become a pastor.  But without much success.  He failed the entrance exam in theology at the University of Amsterdam and shortly after failed a 3-month course at a Protestant missionary school in Belgium.  Nevertheless, he was sent as a pastor to the coal-mining district of Borinage in Belgium, and there he worked hard to emulate his understanding of the life of Jesus.  After only a short time, however, church authorities determined that his rather unorthodox practice of living in a small hut and sleeping on straw—all to become closer to his beloved parishioners—undermined the dignity of a church pastor.   He was dismissed.

          He wandered uneasily through much of the rest of his life, trying this and trying that, and he finally settled on art with the help of his brother Theo.  But his life was never tranquil.  His physical health was poor, his mental health was poor, and throughout his years of painting, his art was dismissed, even as he had been dismissed by his church.

          It seems, however, that through all of these years of turmoil and often debauched living, van Gogh himself never fully dismissed his faith.  In later years, he wrote to his brother Theo of the Christ for whom he longed.  Christ is, he penned, “a greater artist than all other artists…working in living  flesh.  This matchless artist made living men immortals.”  He also wrote to Theo to tell him that he had a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word — for religion.” 

          Interestingly, this last statement was written with specific reference to his painting of “Café Terrace at Night.”  So it’s no surprise that some art aficionados now see this painting as more than a peaceful evening scene of an Arles café at night.  They suggest that van Gogh was actually creating his own version of Christ’s last supper with his twelve disciples, and they ask viewers to consider the following:

          –Eleven people (though it’s difficult to count precisely in an impressionistic painting!)  are seated at tables surrounding the server.

          –A twelfth person, a dark figure, is seen leaving the scene, even as Judas left the disciples gathered for their last meal with their master. 

          –The server is a man dressed in a long white robe. 

          –A lantern, glowing like a halo, hangs just over the server’s head.

          –Directly behind the server, a cross is visible in the window.

          –Several other crosses can also be seen along the street, one cross stretching high into the starry Arles night.  

          All of these facets of the painting suggest that very possibly something more than a mere evening café scene in Arles is what van Gogh has portrayed here.  But why would van Gogh choose an outdoor café setting for the Last Supper?  Why not paint an impressionistic image of that famous Upper Room?  The answer, perhaps, lies in the fact that the Christ for whom van Gogh longed is a Christ not confined by church walls or church rituals.  He is rather a Christ who lives and can be found and experienced in the midst of life.  He is a Christ who frequents the rooms and the activities of our daily lives.  He is a Christ who comes close in our everydays in order to wait upon us and to serve us.

          So it would seem appropriate for van Gogh to have depicted the Last Supper at an Arles café.  Perhaps his very graphic way of saying that the Last Supper is an ongoing, never-ending event as Christ stands among us in every moment, in every ordinary place of all our days and all our nights.  Stands among us, not to lord it over us or to condemn us, but stands among us to serve us.  To make sure our needs are met, to attend to the smallest details of our lives.  To offer us, in the midst of our living, a croissant, a cup of wine, his very body, his very blood.

          Van Gogh left several empty tables at the front of the café.  An invitation, perhaps, for us to sit with the disciples, for us to know that we are always welcome at Christ’s table? 

          In the end, we cannot know with certainty, of course, just what van Gogh had in mind when he painted “Café Terrace at Night,” but I find it compelling to think of this scene as a re-telling of the Last Supper.  And as I look at the painting from this perspective, I find myself hoping that van Gogh himself somehow experienced this serving Christ in all the turmoil of his own troubled life.  Hoping that he somehow knew this Christ to be with him as he splashed irises, sunflowers, and starry nights across his canvases.  Knew this Christ to be with him as he roamed the countryside or the hallways of an asylum.   Knew him to be with him in his tiny room, often drunk or hung-over.  To be with him even as he felt himself fleeing from the faith that had once been so dear to him.  To be with him to feed and nourish him.  To be with him to paint his tattered life immortal.

 

Deep in the Heart of Amaryllis

 

 

 

Deep in the heart of my red amaryllis

the red turns to the blood-bold

red of the setting sun, a scarlet blaze

of fire, a passionate warmth in this cold

awakening of yet another year. 

I’d like to rest awhile inside this petalled

womb, sift through the remnants

of my yesteryear; ponder the hours

that lie ahead, each day the start

of a new year, each moment holding a lifetime. 

I breathe this fiery strength, absorb this radiant

hope, in this red silence wait to be re-born again

and again to live the truth, the beauty

of my amaryllis so alive.

Christmas Tangles

 

Tangled tree lights, memories of Christmas

past dancing along their twisted wires,

dashed hopes and dreams interlaced

with child-happy faces, the aromas

of gingerbread, fresh greens.

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But memories aside…

as candles, carols, bells sing joy

to all the world these clear, cold nights,

I wrestle with the tangled images

that flash across my screen,

lives dangling from the wrath

of winds, relentless rains,

mired in mud of bigotry and hate,

shriveled up by lust and greed,  

unmoored by guns and ranting tweets that clang

against the all is calm and all is bright

for which we yearn and pray.

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And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us…

birthed himself into the tangles

of our winter world

to walk with us,

to ache with us,

to lead us to that

someday tree whose leaves will shelter

all the world with healing joy,

under whose calm, silent branches

arms black and white and red

and brown will intertwine, together

bend the knee before the Child,

whose coming sings the promised hope,

a lion entangles his limbs with a lamb’s,

in a never-ending tango of peace.