A creak in the old floorboard announces my presence. The blue-haired cashier twists from her perch behind the counter as I enter the co-op. Her young eyes warm above her mask when she sees it is me.
“Hey Jessie!” she exclaims with an energy I haven’t mustered in months. “Good to see you. What are you shopping for today?”
Her simple greeting warms my weary heart.
What a gift it is to be welcomed in.
I hope I will never again take such gifts for granted. What I once labeled “ordinary encounters” have become lifelines during lonely pandemic days. I live by myself, and I work where I live. Loved ones and colleagues view me most often from the shoulders up. Too often I feel like a talking museum portrait.
After long days on Zoom, I slump away from the screen and sputter out a reminder that would have seemed bizarrely obvious in 2019: I have a body. God created me with a body. Bodies matter.
God created human beings as embodied people. There is no getting around it.
God created human beings as embodied people. There is no getting around it. We are not souls floating past one another at the movie theater. We are not two brains sitting across from each other at dinner. Every one of us is made to be a fully embodied person—and we are made to be in relationship with other fully embodied people.
As womanist theologian M. Shawn Copeland writes in her book Enfleshing Freedom (Fortress Press), “The body constitutes a site of divine revelation, and thus, a ‘basic human sacrament.’ In and through embodiment, we human persons grasp and realize our essential freedom through engagement and communion with other embodied selves.”
Why is physical presence so essential? What makes something as basic as a grocery store greeting so meaningful, particularly during times of isolation?
For insight, let’s join Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus.
The popular Easter story features two distraught disciples trying to process the trauma of Jesus’ death. As they tread along, they encounter a man who asks to be let into their conversation. “What’s going on?” the mystery man wonders. He notices the pair looks sad.
What makes something as basic as a grocery store greeting so meaningful, particularly during times of isolation?
He notices them.
Cleopas unloads the pain of the previous days: The chief priests killed Jesus. They thought he was the one who would redeem Israel. Now they don’t know what to think.
The mystery man listens. He stays close. Then he welcomes Cleopas and the companion into his own stories.
He welcomes them in.
The man tells stories from scripture—stories of prophets and pilgrims, of suffering and death, of hope and new life. As he speaks, flames flare within the disciples. Later they marvel to each other: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
But in this moment, Cleopas and his companion do not know the man standing beside them is Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. They know him only as a fellow traveler, a wise person who notices their needs and welcomes them in.
May we not forget the many among us who remain isolated and hungry for human connection.
May we do the same for others.
As the pandemic slows and sharing space becomes safe once more, may we treasure every ordinary encounter with strangers, store clerks, and whomever else we meet. May we not forget the many among us who remain isolated and hungry for human connection. May the risen Christ stoke the flames of communion within us, so that in the presence of everyone we encounter, we too cannot help but marvel: “Are not our hearts burning within us?”
Image: Pexels/Amina Filkins