My children are 6, 6, and 9 now, but when they were very young — diapers and bakery bribes in Target young — Matt and I referred to our circumstances as The Trench Years.
We were in the trenches of parenthood, very green and trying to control the uncontrollables, trying to know the unknowables, researching everything from sleep training to timeouts. We were hanging on by a thread.
These are the same years that strangers passing by would volunteer nostalgic one-liners that said more about their reality than ours. And so, when bedtime routines fell apart or toddlers melted down at the dinner table, when we could no longer hear our own thoughts and we were at our wits’ end, Matt and I would say to one another, “They are such a blessing. Cherish every moment. The days are long, but the years are short.”
It would make the other smile, pulling us both out of the terrible details while letting us be completely ourselves — unfinished, imperfect, hot mess heroes of what is hard and ordinary.
Sometimes it is really difficult to be optimistic. To see the big picture. To feel grateful, and not by way of guilt and shame and shoulds. When we are in the trenches, it is all we can do to keep walking, to stay focused on the next step, to put our faith in our own lonely odds and the tiny mysteries that feel like big mountains.
These followers of Jesus are in the trenches. It is still Easter Day. It is, perhaps, the longest of their days, and they are spending this walk unpacking the events of Holy Week. They have questions about everything they have not seen and heard for themselves, about the missing pieces, the fuzzy details, and the what ifs. It is shared grief and wonder. These are miles fussing with the uncontrollable and unknowable.
We know a thing or two about the trenches, don’t we? These are long days dipped in painfully mundane and anxious details:
We are counting the feet we stand apart,
the seconds we spend washing our hands,
the apps that help us stay in touch or turn in work,
the pay periods we’re already missing or clinging to,
the rituals and celebrations being cancelled,
the days until the next social distancing milestone.
The scripture says they do not recognize Jesus when he comes alongside them. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re buried in the details, to place a face so far out of context, to recognize hope when your face is downcast.
But Jesus has a soft spot for the trenches, for meeting people in isolation and fear and suffering. He does come to judge them or to supply a quick fix. He simply keeps pace and asks open questions, urging their deeper grief and bigger wonder out where it has room to move.
“What are you talking about?” He asks. “What things have been happening?”
His followers are stunned.
“How have you not heard about any of this? Where you have you been from the last three days — hiding under a rock?”
What things? Be specific.
I want to hear you say it aloud.
Plot everything you have been carrying in the story.
It will give you the strength and courage you need to say
what you still need, what you deeply hope.
And so they describe Jesus in increasingly vulnerable terms:
He was a man from Nazareth.
He was a prophet and miracle worker.
He was a mighty teacher blessed by God
and loved by people.
And then they tell him the story of Jesus in the trenches:
Our leaders condemned him to death.
He was crucified and he died.
He suffered like us, with us…
and we’re pretty sure he was doing it for us.
And there in the trenches, in the story of Jesus in the trenches, they are able to articulate the most heartbreaking and risky and beautiful and big picture thing. They utter these words:
We had hoped…
We had hoped he was the Messiah.
The One who had come to rescue us all.
And now it’s all out there. The little details of the day and also their deepest, bravest, most fragile desire.
We had hoped.
Jesus remains hidden from recognition, begins teaching them everything
the prophets and writings said about the God who desires a real relationship with humankind, the God who makes and renews promises for the sake of life, the God who will not let death have the last word, the God who cannot stay away and will love creation up close.
I do not hear judgment or disappointment when Jesus calls them fools for not understanding all of these things. God knows we don’t get it, that we never will, not really. God knows we see dimly and digress and distract and get lost in the details.
Jesus shows up — in spite of and thanks to — our foolishness, which has been confirming again and again that we cannot do this alone. We need a God who keeps showing up to save us, who keeps coming alongside us to make a way where we couldn’t see one, who feeds our spirits with hope and truth, but also our bodies — because God knows THIS life is so very precious.
They urge him to stay with them in Emmaus. It’s getting dark. It has been a whale of a day and now he, too, is tangled up with these things, this story, this love that ached and grew along the way.
They sit down to feast together and Jesus does what he has done so many times, something so ordinary and intimate. He takes bread and blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them to eat. And in THAT moment, they finally recognize the One who has been there all along.
He was there, in the trenches of the day, in the messy details of their grief and wonder, in the vulnerability of their hope, in their mess of uncontrollables and the unknowns.
When Jesus disappears, they get up and run all the way back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven and the women — Jesus was with them on the road! Their hearts were burning while he listened and taught, while he coaxed them back into the greatest story, while he lifted their spirits and fed their bodies.
When they arrive, they hear that they are not the only ones who have seen Jesus. Simon also has something to tell. And so by the time the sun goes down that first day, Jesus’ followers are finding ways to plant their own experiences in the resurrection story. They recognize that, even in the confusion and weight of these uncharted times, THEY have something to say about salvation.
They remember that they belong to each other and to a God who comes for the trenches, who knows the terrors of death, who declares that nothing can separate us from the love and life of God in Jesus.
Friends, this is not a story about vigilant or manic faith. It does not mean to scold you for failing to recognize the Risen Christ in your midst or the pace at which you can put the pieces of this season together.
This is a story about Easter on repeat, a thru line, a God who keeps coming alongside our weary journeys, our sluggish bodies filled with grief, our hope buried in layers of things we cannot understand or accomplish alone.
This is a story about a Messiah who does not require your instant recognition or your perfect comprehension. He loves you and he knows the trenches. He is there anyway, even when you are too tired or sad to cherish the moment and see plainly this fierce and forever love.
This is a story that finds us in the trenches of the longest days and blesses us as we are. For all the ways we still need saving and always will, for all the quiet hopes we have yet to utter aloud. We are safe to say them — they are heard by the one who already knows, the one who is revealed in the breaking of the bread and the story that never ends.
Alleluia, Alleluia! Amen.