|Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1571|
“While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them.” (Luke 24:15)
I’m always amazed by the people God has sent to walk with me on my life’s road. In early 1997 I was walking a pretty lonely path. I was serving my seminary internship as vicar of a wonderful congregation in Westchester County, New York when my first wife, after six years of our marriage, announced that she would be filing for divorce. I can’t say that I blame her. Our lives and careers were taking us in different directions, and I was far less supportive of her than I should’ve been. Nevertheless—and if you’ve ever been divorced you’ll understand this—the failure of a relationship which had begun with so much love and hope is something which really sucks.
I was feeling disappointed, depressed, and extremely embarrassed by this personal failure, and I wasn’t looking forward to returning to Philadelphia for my final year in seminary with this broken marriage hanging over my head. I talked it over with my intern supervisor, a wise pastor named Tim Kennedy, and he tried to help me put things in perspective. I put on a brave face for my intern congregation, but I felt that I was walking this road alone.
That is, until I got a phone call at my vicarage from a woman named Shauna. Shauna was one of the seminarians in my internship cluster in the Metropolitan New York Synod. Although the cluster had met several times, I hadn’t recalled exchanging more than a few words with Shauna. She was intern several miles away at St. John’s Lutheran in Poughkeepsie and a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. Our paths had no occasion to cross either as students or as vicars. We were virtual strangers, and I don’t even know if she knew I was married—let alone breaking up with my wife. I had no idea that she and her fiancé had just called it quits, and I have no idea to this day why, of all the people she could’ve called, she decided to call me.
But call me Shauna did, and suggested that we hang out and console each other for our recent trashed relationships. I will say at the get-go that Shauna and I never “dated.” Our relationship was totally platonic, but we were excellent companions on our respective journeys. We took trips into Manhattan and saw plays, went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ate as inexpensively as we could in New York on our vicars’ salaries. Once Shauna treated me to a Hudson Valley Renegades AAA baseball game (I love A-ball! It’s better than the majors!) We talked of church politics, the calls we hoped we’d receive upon graduation from seminary, and Shauna regaled me with fascinating tales of her world travels with college choirs and other adventures. I recall one particularly long ramble through the tiny streets of Greenwich Village when we stumbled upon quaint little St. John’s Lutheran Church where (as I learned later) my own grandparents had been married in 1913.
At a particularly rough time in my life, God had provided me with a caring and understanding friend and wise counselor. Her insight, patience, and kindness were invaluable to me. After internship, Shauna and I remained in contact during our last year at our respective seminaries. The contact, alas, has dissolved over the past two decades as such contacts are wont to do. After all, God puts people in our paths for different reasons and different seasons. Still, I remain very grateful to have had the woman who is today The Reverend Doctor Shauna Hannan, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (and who once made the cover of Living Lutheran as one of the “New Thinkers in the ELCA”) to walk with me on that small patch of my life’s highway. I make it my practice now, when I pray for people who have lost loved ones, to ask God to send the right people into their lives—the people who will reveal Christ to them and help them along in their journey.
In the gospel lesson for Easter 3, Year A (Luke24:13-35) two of Christ’s followers encounter a mysterious stranger on the road. It’s the day of Christ’s resurrection, but these poor guys just can’t bring themselves to believe the reports that Jesus has been raised. They’re disappointed that the one in whom they had so much hope ended up on a cross, and they must be feeling lower than whale crap as they make their sad way back home to Emmaus. But suddenly a stranger comes to join them on their way, and, because they’re willing to be hospitable and open to this guy, he is able to open the scriptures to them and re-ignite the doused spirit within their broken hearts.
Who is walking with you on your journey? Or, has God called you to walk with someone on their sad road back to wholeness? It’s worth thinking about. I always feel that, with due regard to Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 25, our Christian walk is a call to see Christ in others, and to be Christ for others. That’s why it’s so imperative that we gather around the Lord’s Table. We need to remember that we don’t walk alone, that we’re family, and that we are all in need of the assurance of Christ’s presence—the assurance we receive in the breaking of the bread.
I’m glad you came by this week. Thanks for letting me share your journey. Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know you’ve been here, okay?
PS-If you’re ever in lower Manhattan, I suggest you drop in to St. John’s Lutheran. I’ve never worshiped there, but it seems like a pretty cool church. Find out more by clicking St. Johns.