I was surprised by the message my breakfast cereal box silently but boldly proclaimed to me: “Find Big Inspiration in the Little Things!”
It asserted that “a joyful life is lived in the little things, which tend to add up in a big way.”
As our world tentatively emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic’s dark night, I must admit that I appreciate the wisdom offered, which might just assist us in recovering from the challenges, pain and relational desert we have all been experiencing.
Consider two applications:
- Instead of reacting without adequate reflection and spiritual depth to the overload of disquieting information that keeps on assaulting our sensibilities, let’s proactively seek to find inspiration as we anticipate a brighter future.
- Big inspiration is often birthed by unexpected little surprises that cumulatively have the ability to transform our world, both within us and around us.
Discovering inspirational good news can elevate our spirits so we might discern new possibilities and creative responses to the challenges we and others face.
My cereal box message is well-illustrated by 2021’s Easter evening Lectionary reading – the story of two individuals heading toward Emmaus (Luke 24:13-49).
Forlorn disciples of a crucified leader, they dejectedly “were talking with each other about everything that had happened” as they marched away from Jerusalem.
In a startlingly short period of time, their world had been disastrously upended. Their personal expectations for their own journeys, communal hopes for their people’s liberation from oppression, and dreams about the future had been dashed by unanticipated events.
While processing their fears, these two men, with “downcast faces,” suddenly encountered a seemingly little thing. An unanticipated stranger – none other than the risen Jesus – “came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”
Although they did not realize it, the stranger was about to gift them with transformational inspiration. Jesus’ strategy was a wonderful example of how divine grace gifts us with “little things” as we journey through life and its difficulties.
Instead of immediately and directly revealing the miracle of his resurrection, Jesus gently started a wisdom-seeking conversation in a traditionally Jewish manner. He asked what appeared on the surface to be a simple question: “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They recounted the tragedy of the past few days. Chained by their sorrow and doubts, they could discern no silver lining, even when others declared that Jesus’ tomb mysteriously had been found unoccupied.
They finally discovered the identity of their traveling companion, and confirmation of his resurrection, through another little thing – the “breaking of bread.”
Upon reflection, they realized that Jesus’ prior conversation had evoked in them an interior little thing – “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
The two disciples became recipients of a big inspiration through the little things Jesus did for them. Their faith was rekindled, their understanding was transformed and their enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ good news provided renewed energy for their spiritual growth.
Easter’s little things, truly appreciated, launch us with faith and purpose into the future.
With the 2020-2021 pandemic almost in the rearview mirror, the Easter miracle invites us to hear questions like these from the risen Jesus: “What things have occupied your mind? What has happened to inform and inspire your spiritual journey during this time of crisis?”
The church necessarily has spent this last year frantically reacting to the shutdown of society (with Zoom replacing the sanctuary).
Looking to the future, I find myself asking how our Easter-based faith might be preparing followers of Jesus to live and serve in light of both present-day and more distant time frames and horizons.
The pandemic exposed not only how fragile health is for individuals, but also how racial, economic and other inequalities persist in our health care system.
Richer nations receive vaccinations first, while others must wait in line. Political and social justice issues did not take a vacation during the pandemic.
The church must not forget or forsake its calling to stand in solidarity with the poor, immigrants and those exposed to racist, anti-Asian or antisemitic attacks.
Longer-term challenges such as climate change, the emergence of technologically enhanced influences on how humans relate to one another (socially, politically and economically), and the ongoing necessity for peacemaking to triumph over warmongering and violence, await prophetic and life-giving messages from the church.
Reaching beyond every horizon, our Easter-based faith transcends death itself, pointing us to the promised eternity with the resurrection of Jesus as a foretaste.
A single empty tomb may seem like a little thing, but this little surprise continues to provide big inspiration for followers of the risen Christ!
Editor’s note: This is the final article in a series for the Lenten season in which an article reflecting on the lectionary texts for each Sunday during Lent appeared weekly. The previous articles in the series are:
Sneaking Off to Mass and Returning with a Face Tattoo | Jessica McDougald
Do God’s Promises Extend to Savlanut, Sarah and Tseba? | Meredith Stone
Why You Should Enter the Shadow of Lent | Fran Pratt
Lent Calls us to Embrace Foolishness | Richard Wilson
Plagues, Vaccinations and the Future | Margot Hodson
Crosses, Crucifixes and Leaving Behind “Too Catholic” Stereotypes | Junia Joplin
What Should Cries of ‘Hosanna’ Mean Today? | Jana Peterson
An ordained Baptist minister, he serves as historian for the Baptist World Alliance and affiliate professor of church history at Northern Seminary. At the end of 2019, Spitzer retired as general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA. He is the author of Baptists, Jews, and the Holocaust (Judson Press, 2017).