Public Speaking Rule #2: when there’s an elephant in the room, address it. (Rule #1, of course, is know your audience. But as you might imagine, that’s difficult to do these days.)
The elephant(s) in the room. Yes, elephants—plural, more than one.
Elephant #1: my pants are too tight and I’m cranky. I can’t help it. Every time I pass by the jar of peanut M&M’s, my body makes an automatic detour, and before I know it I’m stuffing my face with those delicious hard-shelled chocolate candies that “melt in your mouth, but not in your hand.” It’s subconscious. I have zero self-control. My grandmother would say there’s an easy fix for that: buy bigger pants! But the tightness and crankiness are symptoms of the larger Elephant.
Elephant #2: I feel lonely and mildly depressed. Like the rest of you, I’ve spent over six weeks sheltering in place and I’m tired of it. I want to go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. I want to bump into someone randomly and speak without a mask. I want to pop the 6ft bubble I live in by extending a hand or giving a hug. Really, any human contact will do. So, when I heard this week that all of us will be sheltering in place until the end of May, it felt like a punch to the gut.
When will all of this end? When will life cease being virtual and return to normal? The second elephant: loneliness and depression.
Elephant #3 is where I find myself today: celebrating Easter, but reluctant. To be honest, it feels a lot like sheltering in place: we are in the fourth week of Easter and it has been extended for another three weeks. If it wasn’t for the liturgical calendar right now, I would jump back to Lent and throw myself a pity party…with lots of peanut M&Ms. Easter feels long, and not just because of the pandemic. It is long in normal circumstances too.
To get myself through these long weeks, I’ve listened to a lot of music, which has led me to the truth of Bob Seger’s words: “I like that old-time rock and roll / That kind of music just soothes my soul /Today’s music ain’t got the same soul / I like that old-time rock and roll.”There’s a journey to Rock and Roll music that captures the American spirit. It’s captured by other artists too, like Jack Kerouac and the beatnik generation. We Americans are a “road trip people,” who love muscle cars and build highways like Route 66 that journey from the Jersey Shore through theHeart Land to the beautiful California Coast, always in search for freedom.There are other American journeys too: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, M. Scott Peck’s best-seller The Road Less Traveled, and who can forget Thelma and Louise. We are a road trip people, natural born freedom seekers, always on a journey toward a destination more expansive than ourselves.
Sometimes I fear we’ve lost that spirit, replacing it with cynicism, and so for many of us, Easter has lost its appeal. We are more Hemingways than Kerouacs.
Hemingway once said to Gertrude Stein, “You know, life is just one damn thing after another.”And Stein, who wrote “A rose is a rose is a rose”, replied, “Nope, Ernest, you’re wrong. Life is the same damn thing over and over.” And for manyCatholics, Easter is just that: the same thing over and over. We love Lent; but we treat Easter as if it’s the afterparty, when we breakdown the tables and sweep up for next year’s big dance. But I’m suggesting that Easter is not the afterparty; it’s the dance itself. Easter is a season, a journey, a road trip!—and the Paschal Mystery is our map.
Like Lent, the journey of Easter is a fifty-day road trip with seven stops. On Easter Sunday, we encounter the confusion of not knowing where we are going. We hear it in the panic of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, “We don’t know where they’ve put him.” Anyone who has experienced loss knows this stop. It’s the reason why we need the maps of Lent and Easter in the first place, because in grief we doubt, we question our faith, and lost, we go in search for meaning.
Second Sunday: we pull over for a rest stop at the upper room with Doubting Thomas. Tomas is the one caught in the center of the road, asking whether or not there’s anything worth risking his life for. He’s too hurt to love again, but he is halfway there, confused as to whether or not to turn around or to keeping going until he reaches the other side. Thomas is saved from the oncoming traffic. He finds the map of healing in the most unusual of places: Jesus’ wounds. “My Lord and my God!” The greatest confession of faith the church has ever witnessed. Healed, Thomas can love again.
Third Sunday: we leave the upper room and hit the road. Our destination is Emmaus, andJerusalem is disappearing in our rearview mirror. We pick up a hitchhiker along the way, and then after stopping at a roadside diner and breaking bread together, our minds are opened and suddenly we realize the pain of our loss is no match for the fire burning in our hearts. The hitchhiker is no hitchhiker at all. He is Jesus.
Fourth Sunday: we find our way again. All three readings today speak of having been lost, of having gone astray, and of finding one’s away. We are sheep without a shepherd, and the voice of the Good Shepherd calls out to us, “Hey, you. Yeah, you over there. Don’t just live life, live it abundantly. That’s why I came.” Again, it’s the truth of Seger: “The years roll slowly past / And we find ourselves alone / Further and further from home / Surrounded by strangers we thought were our friends / We find ourselves seeking shelter against the wind.” The Good Shepherd is our shelter against the wind.
Fifth, sixth and seventh Sundays:the next stops will be growing in the truth of Pentecost, the end of our map. Here we stand at the shore of the Coast and stare at the horizon with confidence, knowing the long road we’ve traveled. We have scars but are at peace, because deep in our hearts we know the Spirit was riding shotgun the whole time, even if we felt alone. It’s the same Spirit—the One who set us on our journey; the One who greeted us at the stops; and the One who now hands us the keys and says, “Don’t just live life, live it abundantly. That’s why I came.”
We are a road trip people, and the Paschal Mystery is our map. So, if the Easter season feels long, that’s okay, because Easter is not a stop on the map but the map itself—a road trip! And we all know that every good road trip has a good playlist, songs that capture the stops in ways that we cannot. My challenge to you this 4th Sunday of Easter is to create a play list that captures the stops of your life. Then share it with your family and friends, explaining to them what each song means to you. My bet is that here you will find the Easter map, the map of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.