As an Easter gift, my husband gave me a copy of Henri Nouwen’s book With Burning Hearts, a collection of meditations on the Eucharistic life based on Luke 24, which is the passage about the two companions joined by Jesus on the road to Emmaus after his death.
The first meditation centers on the downcast eyes and spirits of the two sojourners were were so sad to have followed Jesus throughout his life of ministry, only to see him crucified. They spoke to Jesus, not realizing who he was, of the reports they’d heard from some of the disciples about his possible resurrection, but they’d not seen the risen Christ for themselves and didn’t know what to think.
Through this first portion of the Luke 24 passage, Nouwen gives us an opportunity to remember the reality of our losses. He says:
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.
— With Burning Hearts, p. 24
I could not help but be taken back into my many losses when I read this meditation. Nouwen is right: ordinary life is one long string of losses, and it becomes easy to despair. And instead of choking out the reality of those losses, Nouwen encourages us to feel them, to let them touch us and prick our hearts.
These losses are part of our human experience. They put us in touch with the limits and agony of human life in order to point us toward the hope of heaven and make us vulnerable to love, which heals us.
This is the hope of the Eucharist, Nouwen says — the opportunity to open ourselves to the possibility and hope of healing, which we carry with us through the darkness:
As we listen carefully to the deeper voices in our heart we realize that beneath our skepticism and cynicism there is a yearning for love, unity, and communion that doesn’t go away even when there remain so many arguments to dismiss it as sentimental childhood memories.
— With Burning Hearts, pp. 40-41
Despite our pain and brokenness, and in the midst of our cynicism and doubt, hope remains. And that is the gift of Christ: the reality of the grace of new life.
This morning, I also read Mark 3, which relates the following:
Jesus went off with his disciples to the sea to get away [from the Pharisees who sought to ruin him]. But a huge crowd from Galilee trailed after them — also from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, across the Jordan, and around Tyre and Sidon — swarms of people who had heard the reports and had come to see for themselves. He told his disciples to get a boat ready so he wouldn’t be trampled by the crowd. He had healed many people, and now everyone who had something wrong was pushing and shoving to get near and touch him.
— Mark 3:7-10, The Message
It says, “He had healed many people, and everyone who had something wrong was pushing and shoving to get near him.”
When I read this, I can’t help but think of the reality of that statement spread far and wide throughout the course of Christ’s ministry. Everywhere he went, people followed him. Men and women sought to be near him in order to be healed or gain healing for those they loved. Even after he died, people flocked to his disciples because they, too, offered the hope of healing.
He came to heal us from our pain of body and soul.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is the ministry of healing found in Isaiah 61 and quoted later in Luke 4 as Christ’s ordained mission:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
— Isaiah 61:1-3
How can we read those words and not find hope and gladness? The one we follow, called Jesus, came to heal us of our brokenness, to forgive us of all we have done wrong, to draw us near and cherish us with a close embrace, and to crown us with beauty instead of ashes.
He wants to crown you with beauty instead of ashes.
Do you believe that to be true? In the reality of your brokenness and despair, how have you sought the hope of healing for body and soul that Christ offers you? How might you seek after that healing he offers you today?