Walking back to happiness; the Emmaus story

Today’s gospel features two men who were in danger of losing hope for the future.  Jesus had been a good friend, a leader, an admirable preacher, a wonderful character. He had a spiritual presence; he was a joy to be with.  Every word and action led people into God’s presence. And yet the whole dream seemed to have died on Calvary, in shame and sorrow, in pain and rejection. They found it very hard to accept the full truth that Jesus had been victorious over death in the most amazing way and that he had indeed risen from the dead. They walk away. Then on the way and at the holy meal the Risen Jesus appears and restores their hope of a new beginning.  They realise that Jesus is always available as a helper and companion. They will never be alone again; the Lord is with them forever! They decide to walk back to happiness and say farewell to loneliness. Like Thomas they lay aside foolish pride.

Do we know any modern examples of people turning back to faith and new life? I have heard real life stories of staff in Antrim Hospital who found new resources for kindness, co-operation and hopefulness during the present pandemic. It is understandable that a person might revolt from the personal danger. Yet when the crisis broke many nurses, carers and teachers discovered where their true vocation lay in helping the weakest and most vulnerable. They discovered again their initial idealism and sense of purpose. Even those who found the restricted daily routine hard and very challenging were inspired to do their very best and resist all temptation to avoid responsibility. It was an effort, but they walked back to happiness, doing God’s will by taking their role in healing their neighbour.

Even a nation can learn from its mistakes. Just over a month ago Singapore was praised for its response to the pandemic with its world-class health system, public housing, infrastructure, and effective governance. Now it has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.  So what happened? A large group of migrant workers was housed in tightly packed dormitories and almost forgotten about and from there infections grew and spread. Doctors and front-line health workers had laboured around the clock. Three generous budgets of $59.9 billion were rolled out to families, low-income households, small businesses and the self-employed. Despite all these efforts, the invisible virus attacked society at its weakest links.  The good news is that the Singapore government has taken serious action and transferred those essential workers to alternative living areas and also carried out a medical-support plan. They are helping all their people walk back to happiness.

At home it is a temptation to be dismissive of those who disappoint our expectations even in the Church.  There is a lingering hope of a new beginning but would it not be natural to walk away and keep away? The risen Jesus meets us on our journey when we are tempted to give up and asks us to be ready to have a listening ear. Then you find the person you thought was lost has begun to listen to the word of God and belong to a supportive group. Conversion can happen.  Jesus can turn everybody round and get those who seem to be lost to walk back again and get their act together and be a good witness of God’s love.

The Risen Jesus walks with you too, every day.  He says, do not walk away from troubles.  Face up to life’s challenges and help each other to live as God wants us to live.  Turn back to hopefulness because Jesus will  be by your side too.