Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd April 26, 2020
Last Sunday, I was finally beginning to feel hopeful. The lower numbers of new COVID cases and deaths in Manitoba, and to some extent across Canada, were causing the curve to flatten. Lockdown would still be in place for a few more weeks, but I could foresee a gradual loosening of the restrictions. Jobs would open up again. We would make it. As I settled into my chair to watch last Sunday’s worship service, I had strong sense that all would be well.
And then, my phone began to give me disturbing news of a massacre in Nova Scotia. That night, I emailed a United Church colleague in Nova Scotia, who told me that one of the people killed was Lisa McCully, an elementary school teacher who was also a youth leader at the Berwick United Church Camp. I later found out that Lisa was a stepsister of Rev. Deb Murray, a friend and colleague here in Winnipeg, and she told me more about the story.
“Why?” is a question that we have asked ourselves over and over. There has to be a reason. Or does there? We will never know for sure what was going through the killer’s mind. But we do know the tremendous grief and loss of the communities and families of those killed.
How can we, as a people of faith, respond to such tragedy? Even more, where do we, as an Easter people who celebrate the triumph of life over death, see the risen Christ in this? As one commentator writes, “What difference has the claim of a risen savior made, if death still appears to have dominion?” I might add, what difference does a suffering love make, if hate and violence prevail?
Our Gospel lesson for today might help us with these agonizing questions. First, we must remember that Easter was born out of Good Friday. The Easter story of resurrection arises out of humiliation and a tortuous death. It is surrounded by the grief and confusion of the disciples. They had lost their rabbi, Jesus. They had lost God. And so, they scattered, fearful for their own lives, unsure of their future, their faith in tatters.
Two of the disciples left the city of Jerusalem to seek refuge in a village called Emmaus. They were deep in conversation about the meaning of everything that had happened during that past week—a week that had seemed like a month. A stranger approached them, interrupting their intense and quite private conversation by asking, “What are you talking about as you walk along, so sad?” Jesus’ words stopped them in their tracks. Their grief was matched only by their incredulity. Finally, Cleopas asked, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who has not heard about the things that have happened?” Jesus replied, “What things?”
They took a deep breath, still stunned about the ignorance of this stranger, and began to tell the story about Jesus’ crucifixion and about their own women and men who found his tomb empty that very morning. Now it was Jesus’ turn to be incredulous with the lack of faith of these two. He explained how the scripture had pointed to the very events of the previous week.
It is often at the crossroads of our lives, when God stops us in our tracks. We try to make sense of crises and calamities, when sense cannot be had. And then something—some word of compassion, some act of kindness, some thing of beauty will catch us up. It is then, that the dam of sadness may be released. It is then that our heart may break open and God will gently touch our wound.
The two disciples found their broken hearts begin to warm towards this stranger, who stopped them in their tracks. But still, they did not recognize him. It was not until he broke the bread, as he had last broken it with them during their Seder celebration of the previous week, when their eyes were finally opened. “Take, eat, this is my body given for you.” It was then that they not only recognized Jesus, but also God’s presence with them. God had not left them. Even after Jesus vanished, the tangible bread showed them that God was very much in their midst as they recognized the body of Christ. In communion, in community, they were now the body of Christ. They, too, would rise again, while still bearing scars of woundedness.
There is such incredible woundedness amongst Nova Scotian families, friends and communities. These deep wounds will bear lasting scars. Young children have lost parents, parents have lost sons and daughters. Spouses are bereft. And yet even now, in the depth of agony, stories of love are beginning to emerge.
Lisa McCulley noticed her neighbours house on fire and went over to see if she could help. Greg and Jamie Blair did the same. Lisa had two children—a 10 and a 12 year old as did Greg and Jamie. When Lisa, Greg & Jamie were all killed, Greg and Jamie’s 10 and 12 year old sons hid in their house until the killer left. They then went over to Lisa’s house, where her 12 year old daughter had called 911. Deb Murray told me that the 911 operator stayed on the phone with them for 2 hours while the RCMP kept checking on them every 15 minutes during their investigation. When the RCMP found Greg & Jamie’s dog, which had also been shot, they took the dog to the vet, asking them to do all they could to save the dog, because the boys had just lost both their parents. The vet was successful, saying that they would cover the cost and redirected offers to help pay into a fund for the Blair boys. The children of both Lisa and of Greg and Jamie are now being welcomed into new homes of extended families, where the communities will do all that they can to support them. Go Fund Me Campaigns are exceeding expectations. Love is already growing deeper roots in the midst of such horror and will bear them on wounded wings.
This is the Easter love of a Good Friday God, who chooses to suffer with us. Why didn’t God do something to stop the killer? God has never been an interventionist God who smites those who cause harm. None of us would exist if that was the case. Instead of coercing us, God has given us the ability to love and is continuously nudging us towards love. It is our choice to follow these nudges or turn from them. Let us choose love that we may be wounded healers for others.
God is very much in our midst—right in the middle of our pain, our grief, and our incredulity. Even more, God has made us Christ’s broken body, offering love that will break through the darkness. Amen.
 Cynthia Jarvis, “Homiletical Perspective on Luke 24:13-35” Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 2, ed. By David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010): 419.