As a pastor for about ten years before becoming a mid-council leader, the Sunday after Easter never really found its way into my preaching rhythm. I started my career as one of those preachers who always took the week after Easter off, because, well, you know: “Jesus is Risen…but the Pastors are Sleeping”. I’ve enjoyed how others of us use the energy shift after the Easter finale to do something more different and fun, which sounds tempting! Holy Humor Sunday, for example, can be one of my favorite things. But rest after Easter has been a good rhythm to help me get out of Lent and back into the grind. I realized this rhythm was making me miss out on just how powerful one particular part of the Bible story was.
It’s the third day after the resurrection. Roman “justice”, well known historically in its ruthlessness to terrify a populace into submission (attendance at crucifixions were often mandatory), might not be finished with the Jesus movement. The disciples are scattered. Hunted. Terrified that they are next. A few of the (male) disciples are broken, not knowing what to do.
This kind of defeat and fear is a strange vibe to have after the VICTORY of Easter. Didn’t the good guys win? What’s going on? For all the ways we’ve been struggling in our own lives, perhaps this is more relatable.
One story follows a group of the disciples as they go home. They take the Emmaus road. I imagine this as a slow, long walk of defeat. Perhaps rehearsing apologies to the families, friends, and jobs they left behind three years go when they first dropped their nets in anticipation of their return. Maybe wondering what went wrong, where they messed up. In spite of making the faithful choices, they are still very much in danger.
Susan Beaumont in her book “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going: Leading in a Liminal Season” calls this kind of moment of in-betweenness a season of liminality. It’s reminiscent of what is theologically often referred to as the “already, not-yet”—that in-between time of the achievement of Christ’s glory, and the still unfolding story of God’s grace for all. It’s an awkward part of the story, knowing we are deeply in it, but not quite having a sense of how the story will end. In liminal seasons, we are coming out of an old world and still trying to find our way into the next one. (I highly recommend this book)
This in-betweenness is true in how we are coming out of what we hope is the final stage of this pandemic, as we settle into newly earned understandings of connection and embodied community. This is true for the 21st century church, as we lead a church unrooted from the power and influence that many have assumed for the last 500 years were naturally a part of the church. In light of these truths, we wander aimlessly, lost, not knowing what do to. And often when we don’t know what to do, we do what we know!
The challenge of liminality is letting go of the world of the past, and imagining ourselves in the new world ahead. As Natalie Thoreson said at an anti-racism workshop last month, “If we can’t envision it, how would we even begin to get there?”
This is why I love so much this particular story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road. There are very few answers at this point, just mystery and presence. The resurrected Jesus shows up next to them, in what strikes me to be a very humorous moment of him saying, “Whacha talkin’ ‘bout?”, as if there is anything else but the crucifixion to talk about! (A number of years ago, I actually made a video showing the layers of humor here at the Covenant Gathering volunteer synod school of Presbyterians from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. You can check it out by clicking here.)
Check out how few answers are in this story! The disciples struggle to find the right words to say, and what Jesus says exactly, we don’t know. They stick to the basics: just walking together. Sharing company. Wrestling with the Scriptures. Showing hospitality together. Breaking bread. Jesus meets them in this space. Then, after time, they reflect on how they experienced the divine.
It’s an expression of one of my favorite kinds of church experiences: low-key church. Authentic church. Not-by-best-day-but-still-ok church. Maybe this is all we need to do in this week after Easter, this liminal space as we transition from Lent to Holy Week to Resurrection Sunday to the Second Sunday of Easter and then ordinal season that follows. Maybe a space that just gives us permission to process for a bit, and in the company of others doing the same.
What would it be like to make more spaces like this? To just…wander together for a little bit, without having it all figured out. Less doing, more being. Less finding the right answers, more articulating the right questions. What if we took a moment, just to…meander down the road? And sit. And breathe.
Perhaps this week can be a time for pockets of rest. I appreciate that we cannot stay there. But I appreciate more the need to make sure that we do have these kinds of spaces. Because, like the story, Jesus is gonna meet us there anyway.
Let’s respect the power of liminal spaces. Let’s take a look around at what it might mean for us, even if we can’t name it exactly yet.
Welcome to the week after Easter Sunday.
It’s a whole new world.
Presbytery Leader, Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery
firstname.lastname@example.org / 314-409-9002