Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”[i] Isn’t it interesting that a statement made over a hundred years ago is still so relevant today. In these frightening and uncertain days, we will only become fully aware of what’s happening to us in retrospect. Yes, we can and must make important decisions in real time, but the full impact of those decisions will not be completely understood until some future date.
So, bearing that in mind, I think it’s imperative that we consider the second part of Kierkegaard’s statement, “[Life] must be lived forward.” Which is the point of the Resurrection account that we have before us today. You see, the two man, as they undertook that long walk home, were looking backwards. They understood their present situation in the context of Jesus’ death. They had no conception or understanding of what possibilities might lay ahead. Their life, in that moment, could only be understood “backwards.”
But, as we all know from our perspective 2,000 years later, that they didn’t remain in their grief. Notice that God didn’t prevent them from wandering, God didn’t prevent their suffering. Suffering and wandering a part of life, everyone’s life, yours, mine, everyone’s. When something bad happens to us it isn’t because we’ve done something to anger a vengeful God, and when something great happens it isn’t because we’re more righteous than anyone else. “[God] makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous.”[ii] And in was in the midst of their darkness, that the Light of God began to walk alongside these two disciples.
Now, you have already heard the story. And incognito Jesus joined two despondent travelers but he only became known to them through teaching and sacrament. The text says he opened the Scriptures to them, what we now call the Old Testament. Now, because he provided a new way of looking at the old teachings, Jesus took their understanding of the Law and replaced it with a forward looking perspective. Jesus expanded their concept of how Scripture might shape their lives. And here’s the goodie! It was with that new life-perspective that that recognized the risen Christ.
Perhaps, in these difficult and unusual times, maybe we too should consider expanding our understanding of faith and life, and relationship, and the meaning of sacrament for our time. I mean, can we find a sense of sacrament, a sacred space or time, beyond the communion table or the baptismal font? Can Divine Wisdom come from many places, many people, from a diverse collection of religious or philosophical texts; might God be revealed through everyday conversations, with everyday people, in our everyday context? Can God come-to-life in new and imaginative ways?
Now, I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but I think it would be a worthwhile task to explore them. And maybe, just maybe, if we begin to explore and experience teaching and sacrament in a new way, if we turn our gaze forward, maybe we will begin to imagine a world where all people live in peace and practice justice; a world where there is no place for greed or hunger or homelessness; maybe we could even imagine a time when all people choose to coexist with nature and with each other. Perhaps, if we indwell this forward-looking perspective we might be empowered to continue to love our neighbor through social distancing and by wearing our masks when we cannot stay home. And if we choose to be forward-looking, maybe we would be truly “liberated” by continuing to follow Governor Evers’ stay-at-home order.
One final thought before we move into prayer and communion. God is still God, always. Even in times of unprecedented change, even when we need to adopt a new perspective on life and faith, God is still the God of love and grace and compassion. And the Bible, from any perspective, tells us that God is good and generous and can be counted on, in every age and every circumstance.[iii]
[ii] Matthew 5:45b (Common English Bible CEB)
[iii] Ibid Matthews