I’m preparing to go to an annual preaching workshop that is usually held somewhere on the Oregon Coast. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking but hey, some of my best reflecting on the workshop is done by walking along the beach. What can I say?
As I’ve been pondering what the still-new year might hold for the congregation I serve, I was reminded of one of those reflective walks from some years ago. The sessions to that point had focused on some of the resurrection stories…an angel appearing to Mary in the garden and Jesus appearing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Stories of Jesus showing up unexpectedly, or up ahead somewhere leading the way, moving everyone and everything forward even in their confusion and misunderstanding.
In my memory, we were walking down a misty beach. We had headed out from the north end of Cannon Beach on our way toward Haystack Rock. We could see an area of misty fog (foggy mist?) ahead of us and paused briefly when we reached it. It felt heavy and the air was thick. Haystack Rock had vanished in the grayness. We stepped forward. Our uncertainty was tempered by the boundaries of water on the right and loose dry sand on the left. We knew we were still moving in the right direction even if the extent of our progress wasn’t clear. Finally, looming in silhouette through the shroud of mist, the image of Haystack began to emerge, still blurry, but definitely there ahead of us.
The verse we had studied before embarking on our stroll was Matthew’s Easter story in chapter 28. An angel says to the women at the tomb: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you” (Matt. 28:7). Sometimes we focus so much on the “go and tell” portion of this passage that we forget to take hold of the important part of it for ourselves…he is going ahead of you to Galilee. Galilee was home! Jesus is leading the way home! He is going on ahead to make sure everything is ready, yes, but also to clear the path. Sometimes as we move forward, a glimpse of him begins to emerge, still blurry, but definitely there ahead of us.
I can’t tell you what the future holds for me or for the congregation I serve. I can tell you that I see lots of possibilities. I can tell you that I am hopeful and optimistic. I can tell you that we have every reason to feel gratitude to God and to one another for what we have accomplished by God’s grace to this point. Not everything has worked out as planned, to be sure. But we believe that God is leading us, that Jesus is somewhere up ahead, laying a path, doing the work God has called him to do, and waiting for us to catch up with him.
The women took the angel’s message and they ran from the tomb to find the disciples. The text tells us: “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (28:9). (In the Kappus paraphrase, I hear something like an affectionate “Hey there, you!”) That is my hope and prayer for all of you in this still-new year. One of these days, you’ll be walking along, life as usual, down the beach/path/road/hall/aisle, looking into God’s future for you with a hazy vision and, suddenly, Jesus will meet you, right there, with a “Hey there, I love you!” (Try not to act too surprised.)