It was the worst news we could imagine. We never expected it to happen. We thought everything was just sailing along smoothly, in fact life had been better than it ever had been.

Until now…

This week had been a good one for me. I wrote an op-ed for the Buffalo News that got rave reviews. I was elected co-conveneer of the UB Campus Ministry Association. One of my favorite students had been chosen to be a Catholic Volunteer in Buffalo. National Public Radio interviewed me for a story on their website. And I had not one, but two promising book deals on the horizon.

And then there was Thursday…when the phone rang.

“Hello my sister!” I said, happy to hear her voice. “How are you?”

Her response was blunt, “I’m full of colon cancer.”

The world stopped right there. I was on the road to what I thought was a wonderful summer, a wonderful end to the semester. And now…well, I didn’t know what to think.

This was not unlike our disciples today who also had high hopes for Jesus–the one they expected to redeem Israel. And then….

Crucifixion. Death. Entombment. And then crazy women told them that he was alive. It seemed like a cruel joke when they returned to the tomb and found it empty but didn’t find Jesus.

That 7 mile walk, must’ve been quite disconcerting. What were they to do? They had given up their very lives for this Jesus and now he was dead. All was lost and the worst possible news had indeed happened.

We all end up on the road to Emmaus, at one point or another. It’s a road that none of us want to be on. It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It’s an unexpected experience. It’s a road that nobody ever wants to walk on alone.

And these two disciples were no different knowing that they needed one another for support in these most dire of times. And then luck struck. A stranger who comes and offers them more companionship. Sometimes isn’t it just great to get an unbiased opinion of things? And this guy turns things upside down and gives them hope, renews their faith so that they just might believe one last time that perhaps death and suffering may not be the final word.

We don’t know what is going to happen to my sister. For our graduates tonight, you don’t know what awaits you either as you leave. But we do know two things:

The first is that no matter how many good things happen to you, the occasional bad one will come your way and it will stop you in your tracks. None of us escape suffering.

But the second one is the good news of the gospel…whenever we are on that scary road to Emmaus, when all seems lost, Jesus comes and will meet each one of us on that road. And quite often, we’ll all be too tied up with our our fear, or hate, or stubbornness, or pain that we will just miss him altogether. We’ll need a reminder. And so we come here and break the bread and have our eyes opened and are called into belief one more time, supported in belief by a faith community.

Eventually on that road, we all come in for a rest stop. We are able to come to a place where all are welcome, indeed where there are no strangers. Where each of us meets that Jesus in disguise–in one another–and we are never the same again. It is there where we realize that he is alive again…and has been with us always even in the most troublesome times of our lives. It is when we come around this table that we remind ourselves that suffering, or poverty, or losing a job, or failure….

Or even Cancer will not have the final word.

No, God always offers us something else. Something better. God offers us Himself. And it is more than enough.

May we always be able to see that. And may our prayers for one another keep that sure and certain hope alive and burning in our hearts….

No matter what hand life deals us.

UPDATE for those interested: My sister received some preliminary good news yesterday. It seems as if no “fast moving cancer” is in her system. We’ll know more about the stage of colon cancer and prognosis once blood work comes back in 5-8 days. I think my big sister is about to kick cancer’s ass. Thanks for the prayers.