Another Look: Sad of heart (Luke 24)
“They stopped, their faces drawn with misery…” (Luke 24:18).
When we meet our friends on the road to Emmaus, we can see that they are sad of heart. Their faces are downcast, their voices hushed, their shoulders slumped. The two are absorbed in a serious conversation punctuated by sighs and shaking heads.
Sad. So sad. Indeed, so sad their sorrow keeps them from seeing Jesus when he comes alongside them.
So sad they can’t believe there’s a person alive who doesn’t know about the events that made their world collapse.
So sad they are sure all their hopes had been dashed.
So sad they can’t stop talking about their painful experience, can’t stop obsessing about it, can’t make sense of any of it.
And when strange news came from women who went to the tomb and found his body missing — well, that was just crazy talk! Insult added to injury. Grief now irritated by impossible, incredible tales.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that loss is part of the very fabric of every life.
If there is any word that summarizes well our pain, it is the word “loss.” We have lost so much! Sometimes it even seems that life is just one long series of losses. When we were born we lost the safety of the womb, when we went to school we lost the security of our family life, when we got our first job we lost the freedom of youth, when we got married or ordained we lost the joy of many options, and when we grew old we lost our good looks, our old friends, or our fame. When we became weak or ill, we lost our physical independence, and when we die we will lose it all!
…What to do with our losses? That’s the first question that faces us.
• Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts
As painful as our natural losses may be, the losses these disciples mourned represented even more than personal grief. They had lost their religion. Their hope, their prospects, the anticipated course of their lives. Their hopes of God’s Kingdom coming — and it had seemed so near! — were now crushed. Their dreams of a new world of peace and justice emerging in their lifetime evaporated.
The trust they had placed in the Man who seemed to fit the role of Messiah perfectly now seemed misplaced. He was gone. Dead. Publicly shamed. Crucified. Buried. It was over. Where was God, who had seemed to be with him in such power, displaying such love and grace through his words and works? This was a darkness darker than dark, a black hole of an abyss, a full-blown crisis of faith. Hopelessness.
We can see, however, two slight glimmers in the dark.
First, there is human companionship. Two walk side by side. Their spirits may be as dead and dry as sticks, but perhaps together they can produce a spark of hope.
Second, there is an unrecognized Presence. Even when the two travelers are prevented from knowing him, Jesus is with them. His questions prime the pump, get their attention, lift their eyes, get them thinking outside the box of their stunned grief. His presence adds an extra dimension to their fellowship, pulling them out of their tight huddle of mourning. His encouragement and instruction begins to renew feeling in their numb hearts and minds once more. Gently, he listens and responds. He doesn’t overwhelm them with advice or counsel, but simply helps them reframe their perspective and consider other possibilities. He creates curiosity, awakens a sense that there might be more to the story than the darkness they feel.
When we suffer loss, when we are hurting, when our faces are downcast, when we are sad of heart, we need a friend. And we need a Friend.
We need (and have access to) more too. But that awaits the rest of the story…