I came across a quote by Maya Angelou this week that got me thinking. Angelou wrote “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” It struck me that it is easy to look at the beautiful butterfly and forget about the metamorphosis or transformation that it has gone through – from the egg to the caterpillar, then to pupa or cocoon stage, before it finally becomes the beautiful creature that it is when it goes through the transformative struggle that sees it emerge from its cocoon.
It struck me that there is a great life message there, that struggle, and sometimes pain and hardship, are part of life. No one wants to experience those realities, and yet, they are part of everyone’s life. From the moment that we are born, our life keeps evolving. There are times when we pray to be rid of the struggle, when we want things to ‘go back to the way that they always were’, but that is not how life works. The reality is that there is no going back, there is no undoing what has already happened, there is only learning to live in the present and waiting for the beauty to unfold again.
It is easy to believe in God, to have faith and hope when things are going well, but what happens when your life falls apart, when everything you know comes tumbling down; when you enter the real struggle of transition in your life.
In today’s gospel, (Luke 24:13-35) we meet two of Jesus’ disciples on the road to Emmaus, they are leaving the city, probably heading back to their old way of life. We know that they are battling to understand what has just happened – they are walking along, the scriptures tell us ‘their faces downcast.’
With the death of Jesus, their hopes for a better life were shattered, they are devastated and just want to walk away from it all, leaving Jerusalem, and all that had happened there behind them. Sometimes we just want to walk away from it all too, and hope for an easier life, but life just isn’t like that.
It is into this situation of darkness and disappointment – this place of lost hopes and broken dreams that Jesus enters – not simply as Jesus of Nazareth, but as the risen Lord, powerful and empowering.
Oddly the two on the road do not recognise Jesus – we don’t know why – the text says that their “eyes were prevented from seeing him.” It might be that this is a reference to the ‘blindness’ that often comes with trauma, when ‘we can’t see clearly’ because of grief, or pain, or bitterness, or doubt, or despair!
As they recounts the events of the last few days, we hear the source of their pain. They tell their new travelling companion that their own hope had been that Jesus would be the one to set Israel free.
Our own hope had been … How many times have our hopes been dashed; our hopes for a healthy marriage; our hopes for a better relationship with our family; our hope of overcoming an illness, an addiction, a bad habit; our hope for a better job, a better lifestyle; our hopes not only for ourselves, but for others also? And when those hopes are not fulfilled in our time frame, we often give in to despair.
As they walk along, the stranger opens up the scriptures and helps the two to see their story in a new light, to see that in fact the cross is part of life, it is part of our journey and not necessarily the end of the road. Sometimes, when we are going through that transition place, that place of struggle, it feels as if the cross is the whole of our life – but it is only part. Struggle is part of life. The beautiful butterfly only becomes what it is after the struggle of leaving the cocoon.
When we are faced with uncertainties, pain, or suffering, it is easy to waiver, to give in to the darkness, but Jesus assures us that beyond our uncertainty, beyond our chaos, beyond our struggle, new life will be found. In the chapter before today’s gospel Luke records the death of Jesus. He includes the detail that “It was now about the sixth hour and the sun’s light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
There are echoes here of the creation story where we hear that “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2). In other words, just as God brought life out of chaos in the moment of creation, so the spirit of God hovers over the darkness of the world and brings forth Jesus’ resurrection. So also the Spirit of God hovers over the fragments of our life, our uncertainties and our disillusionments and has power to bring new life there too.
Just as Jesus helped the two on the road to make sense of their lives by opening up the scriptures, so too we find meaning in God’s word. It is there that we encounter the same Spirit of power that raised Jesus from the dead, the Spirit of power promised us by Jesus himself.
So this morning, as we gather here, let us pray for the grace to place our trust in the risen Lord, to invite him into our lives; let us pray for the endurance to persevere in the struggles that we may be experiencing at this time, in the sure knowledge that the Spirit of God is at work, hovering over us, ready to bring forth new life.
May the Lord continue to bless us this week and fill us with the power and strength that we need at this time.