Children with shrapnel through their cheeks…Young men missing limbs…Mothers with babies fleeing rockets: these are the images from North Africa on the news each day. Those who can get out, head for Italy. France and Germany don’t want them in their countries and turn them back when they try to head north out of Italy. Tens of thousands of refugees continue to arrive in here—hungry, thirsty, sick, wounded, without any idea of what the future will hold for them. And these are the lucky ones, the ones who will survive.
On Sunday we will celebrate Easter. We will sing of the Risen One who broke the chains of death and despair. We will talk of hope and newness and victory. Yet while we are worshiping, refugees will continue to arrive. Monday morning, even after all our celebration; the world will look very much the same as it did on Saturday. Perhaps we will feel like the disheartened travelers on the Road to Emmaus in the twenty-fourth chapter of Luke. The two travelers relate to the risen Lord, whom they do not recognize, what has occurred in Jerusalem. They lament how Jesus had been handed over and executed. Then they sigh: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Jesus had been raised from the dead; but they knew it not. To them, the world looked no different. Nothing appeared to have changed.
They were heading to Emmaus. Emmaus was nowhere; they were running away. Frederich Buechner wrote:
Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred; that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that [people] have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish [people] for selfish ends. Emmaus is where we go, where these two went, to try to forget about Jesus and the great failure of his life. (The Magnificent Defeat, p.85)
On Monday morning, it will be easy, in light of the news on TV, to flee to Emmaus, to draw back from the thundering, blinding proclamations of Easter morning. It will be easy to live, in the face of the world’s brutality, as if the death of Jesus was the great failure of his life--as if nothing was really transformed on Easter morning. We would never say it, but we will be tempted to live as if the power of malice was not really broken, as if the war was not really won.
Some writers have commented that the war in Europe was won on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) when the allies got across the beaches of Normandy and into the hedgerows of France. Sure, there were still battles to be fought, villages to be taken, Germany to be invaded. The casualties would continue for a while. But when they made it off the beaches, the outcome was set; in a way the war was won. The Axis powers didn’t know it, so they went on fighting.
After the surrender of Japan, the war in the Pacific was over, but there were still Japanese soldiers hiding on islands who went on fighting. They didn’t know it was over. They had to be dealt with, and that cost lives. Even though the war was over, there were still mopping-up operations to carry out.
So it will be with us on Monday morning. The war is over; the outcome is set. Hate, prejudice, injustice, poverty, and violence have been defeated. They don’t know it, so there are still some battles to wage. And there will still be casualties. Karl Barth wrote:
The Easter message tells us that our enemies, sin, the curse and death are beaten. Ultimately they can no longer start mischief. They still behave as though the game were not decided, the battle not fought; we must still reckon with them, but fundamentally we must cease to fear them anymore.
The game is decided; we will proclaim that on Sunday. And we will no longer fear the battles that remain. We will continue “mopping-up” operations here in Italy because the immigrants will keep coming unabated. And you, in your place, will continue “mopping up.” But the war is won; fear not!
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;*
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25)
As you pray, please remember:
The refugees who are coming to Italy and those who are caring for them.
Debbie as she visits more frequently with women working the streets.
Jim Kelsey (along with Debbie, Ben and Luke)
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