by the Rev. Barbara Mraz, Writer-in-Residence

Sometimes making connections is one of the rewards of preaching. Here’s one I made this week, with an intriguing historical reference.

It wasn’t always Mara Lago or even Camp David. The 32nd president of the U.S. retreated forty times during his term to a small Georgia town called Warm Springs. He hoped that swimming in the 88 degree waters there would help cure him of the polio he had developed in 1921. He built a small cottage which came to be known as “The Little White House”. He welcomed Churchill there, and Stalin, and eventually brought children and others afflicted by polio to swim in the warm water. Franklin Roosevelt tried to hide his illness as much as possible from the public, fearing it would make him seem weaker than he was. At Warm Springs, he could be himself.

Roosevelt died in the Little White House in 1945 and a stunned nation was awash in grief, remembering the creative, decisive programs he had put in place to bring the nation out of the Depression and through World War II. As his funeral train rolled north to his home in Hyde Park, New York, via Atlanta, his casket lay on a bier made of wood from pines grown at Warm Springs.

A news account published in The Atlanta Constitution on April 15, 1945, described FDR’s funeral train this way: “The journey, with the casket under honor guard in the dimly-lit presidential car that carried Mr. Roosevelt on so many triumphal travels, was an extension of the sorrowful trip here last night from Warm Springs, Ga., where the president died Thursday. Tonight, as then, honor guards of servicemen were stationed along the route. Just as last night, mourners high and low gathered along the route for a last glimpse of the only man to serve 12 years as President.”

The Gospel for tomorrow is the beautiful story known as “The Road to Emmaus.” I was surprised to learn that the root of the word Emmaus is “warm spring,” maybe a reference to a site that existed in the ancient village. The lesson itself is bathed in the warmth and life-giving presence of an unknown stranger who joins two sad, despondent, deeply-disappointed travelers on their walk home from Jerusalem after a wrenching Friday.  

This particular springtime desperately needs the soft warm air of May and June to bathe us in hope and bless us with the presence of this same Stranger who meets us where we are and walks with us along the way, no matter how disheartened and discouraged we are.

How do we recognize him? Suggestions forthcoming.

You’ll see me “in church”…Barbara

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