(this is an article that Fr Martin Magill and I wrote for the Irish News. It was published on April 9, 2020)
The script has been ripped apart. Nothing is as it was. The future is no longer easy to see. We are in Bono’s words - ‘Stuck In A Moment.’
It is a shock. We are thrown. How do we deal with this trauma? Everybody is talking about it.
We might be talking about the Coronavirus. Do you remember the days when people talked about the weather? Now we are consumed and obsessed with this pandemic.
Or… we might also be talking about two guys who were walking home after Jesus’s crucifixion. Luke records it in his account of the life of Jesus. One of them was called Cleopas and they were heading to Emmaus about seven miles from where all the action had been in Jerusalem.
Their script had been torn up too. They were sure Jesus was the Messiah. They had plans but everything was gone. Jesus had been crucified. They were consumed by it.
It was at the last 4 Corners Festival committee meeting when we were actually all in the same room, remember those old days? Jim Deeds who has become the unofficial spiritual director of the committee took us on this journey of Cleopas and his friend.
We quickly related it to in these Coronavirus Times. We all seem to be lost in the moment. The world we knew and hoped in seems gone. We are not sure what the future will be like or when it will come.
On that road to Emmaus, Jesus joined the two distraught disciples. They didn’t recognise him. He pretended he didn’t know what was going on. They invited him to rest with them and when he broke bread they realised who he was, the presence of God right there, present with them.
Finding Jesus in the middle of their confusion changed everything for our two lost souls. Firstly it made sense of their story. More important it made sense of the way the world is.
One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel. Emmanuel means God with us. Jesus was God with us. As John described it in his account of the life of Jesus - “The word became flesh and moved in among us”. God was a presence on earth.
There are so many places in the Bible where God talks about being with his people. The best known is Psalm 23 . In the Hebrew language there are 26 words before and 26 words after the words “for you are with me”.
God with us is central to the most famous of all the Psalms. God with them was the centre of the new hope for the two disciples in Emmaus. God with us is key to how we cope with the Coronavirus.
There is nowhere in the entire Bible that God tells us that he will take away our troubles. In fact, the Bible is written by and for a people going through all kinds of troubles - slavery, famine, exile, war, oppression from Pharaohs, Herods and Caesars. God never promises to fix it but he does promise to be with us through it.
When the two guys in that house in Emmaus find themselves in the presence of Jesus everything changes; their mood, their posture, their actions. As soon as Jesus leaves them, they are up and running back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples all that they had experienced.
If you read the New Testament carefully you could imagine that these two guys run straight out of Luke’s Gospel into the Acts Of The Apostles. Luke also recorded the first activities of the Church after Jesus went back to heaven. These guys were in the vanguard of those things.
So, us? Well, we all have had our script ripped up. Time though in the presence of Jesus sends us off to do the things Jesus said for us to do.
What would Jesus do? It is an easier question to answer in Coronavirus Times. We can begin by sacrificing our own whims and desires in order to stop the spread of this virus, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS staff who are in constant danger treating those with the virus.
We are living right now in a world in isolation. Many people are anxious and lonely. All of our mental health is being stretched in far too many directions. Into such a world we all have to play our selfless part. As Jesus was a presence so it is vital that we become a presence to people even when we cannot be present with them.
It might be just the patience to help your family through this tough time, realising that we all deal with it differently. It might be that phone call or that shop for the next door neighbour. It might be an imaginative way to help a local business or musician or painter. It might be that you volunteer at a Foodbank.
For some of you it might mean being on the frontline, fighting this virus in hospitals, as doctors, nurses and yes, cleaning staff. For others it will mean looking after the children of NHS staff. There are many other necessary tasks that need done.
The script has indeed been shredded. There is a blank page laid out in front of us all. What is our story going to be? For those guys in Emmaus it was the Jesus story. Let us start writing that story all over these Coronavirus Times!