On the COVID-19 Emmaus Road ©

Moderators Note: A video version of this blog from Bishop Lowry is available at the end of this post
Charles Wesley’s great resurrection hymn rings out:
“Christ the Lord is ris'n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav'ns, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love's redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened Paradise, Alleluia!
 The first two verses capture the essence of Easter celebration. However, I must confess, that it is the magnificent fourth verse which grips and inspires me.
 
 Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Foll'wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
(“Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, No. 302, The United Methodist Hymnal)
This has been an Easter like no other in my experience. We have been separated but not alone.  Our Easter Celebration has been radically changed and yet triumphantly expressed. Like most, if not all of you, Jolynn and I shared in a glorious worship service online. As I reflect on this year’s Easter celebrations in which I participated, emotionally experienced and been spiritually immersed, I think I have had something of an Emmaus Road experience. Perhaps you have too.
 
You remember the Emmaus Road resurrection story from Luke 24:13-35.
 
Now on that same day [that means Easter day] two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles form Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Luke 24:13-14) 
On the road of life together, they wrestled with how to understand the news they had heard about Jesus’ resurrection. They didn’t know whether to believe what they had heard about Jesus or not.  St. Luke reports, “they were talking and discussing.” (Luke 24:15) 
 
In the midst of their questioning and doubts, Jesus joins them (just as he joins us this Easter season!!) but they do not recognize him. They share their longings, the imbedded desires of their hearts for a better life.  “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)  As they pour out their concerns and questions, Jesus encounters them on the road of life. 
 
There is a great truth we are taught here in this encounter. We will meet the resurrected Christ in our journey of faith. When these two followers of Jesus least expected it, they encountered the risen Christ in the midst of their ordinary living. So it is for us, even … no, make especially in the midst of a COVID-19 Pandemic.
 
How did you experience Christ in the midst of your “coronavirus quarantine ordinary” living this Easter? Here are but a few of the stories shared with me from throughout the conference of how our local churches worked to help their communities experience Christ.
 
First Round Rock built and delivered 45 beds to children in their community who did not have beds. While delivering the beds to a single mother with four children, the mother asked what church they were from. One of the volunteers invited her and her children to church. The next day the family came to worship and has been attending every Sunday since (in person in February and online now). The mom shared how much Easter meant to her, in particular, the idea that God would become one of us in Christ and be resurrected for us. She mentioned how much she suffered in an abusive relationship and the hope she now has in Christ. 
 
Through a friend on social media, Pastor Lara Whitley Franklin at Martin UMC-Bedford connected with someone who had drifted away from the faith decades ago. He is living in Italy (the nation, not the town) had been on COVID lockdown for almost 40 days when Lara invited him to watch their Easter worship service. She said to him that they would be recording the service so that he could watch it later due to the  time difference. Easter morning came and this faith seeker had organized a watch party and invited all his friends from Italy, and other parts of Europe, and they joined in worshipping at Martin live on Easter Sunday.
 
Mission Esperanza (Hope Mission in English, one of our new communities of faith) is reaching out with the gospel to a new people. The service is in Spanish. It is a New Church Start that in the last year has turned the corner meeting in the only Aldersgate church. They also have weekly children’s programing online. The Pastor is African from Mozambique and speaks Spanish fluently. They also continue to do a safe, socially distant feeding program in the Arlington area that is significant.
 
King Memorial, under Brad Slaten’s leadership, has been and is very active in the community during the COVID 19 Crisis. In conjunction with the police department and the ministerial alliance, they had a drive-in Easter service. The church is being the church, offering Christ and hope in an uncertain time
 
Greens Creek UMC near Dublin held a Holy Week scavenger hunt that ended up involving not only church members but "quite a few" others from the community. The scavenger hunt had 14 stops where individuals and families would locate an item, read and discuss a scripture, and take a picture of their time there. At Stop14, “hunters” had to find a large rock or stone and read about Jesus' resurrection in Mark 16:1-8. Those who participated posted pictures on Facebook. Participants reported the experience as giving new meaning to the week we call “Holy.”
 
The Holy Spirit is moving in the people of FUMC Millsap. This ranching community has not seen a dip in giving since “Shelter in Place” has started. This community, where the internet can be slow, rallies together to develop an online worship that is far beyond expectation.  Their Easter worship has been viewed 242 times [at the time of this post] which is 600% more than normal.  
 
Over at Mart UMC, they delivered (door-to-door) hardback children’s Bibles and Resurrection eggs with Stations of the Cross, sharing the Easter story, to 143 JAM (Jesus and Me) kids. Pastor Amy Anderson reports that they gave away 14 extra children’s Bibles to other children and gave away nine adult Bibles during their travels. Members also handmade paper Easter Lilies to go on a cross in the sanctuary for people to be able to honor and remember loved ones. They took the Easter celebration even farther through a “LIVE” Sunrise Easter Service at undisclosed location online.
 
On the Emmaus road of life one pastor went out visiting family with appropriate social distancing after Easter. The blessing of presence brought a new Easter observation. The pastor wrote,
Hard day yesterday. I visited 34 of our elderly in their homes. At several… I stood hand to hand through a glass screen door with tears streaming down both of our faces as I prayed with them. We pastors just thought pastoral care was hard a month and half ago.”
The Emmaus Road experience is not just a special Easter event for the spiritually mature. It is about Christ meeting us on the road of life. It is the continuing story of the resurrection taking place through and beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic. The risen Christ is with us and I thank God for the great faithfulness in witness of the churches, laity and clergy of the Central Texas Conference.