By Lauryl Hebenstreit

The St. Benedict Center at Christ the King Priory is nestled between two barren cornfields outside of Schuyler, Nebraska. Run by St. Benedictine monks, the center offers retreats for groups, peaceful individual time for reflection, and just a moment of silence in our chaotic lives.

The Nebraska synod chose this scenic venue for its Emmaus program, a four day intensive theological program for lay church leaders across Nebraska.

Being a peer minister at The Lutheran Center, I felt I was really getting the hang of the peer portion of my job last semester. Sure I still messed up, but I understood what it meant to be a peer in this community.

The ministry part, however, was completely lost on me. I knew ministry did not mean knowing the genealogies of the Old Testament by heart and that ministry could be what I was doing through friendships, but I was missing all of the Lutheran theological goodness. The only thing I knew about being Lutheran is that everyone likes to sing even if they aren’t very good at it. 

I had a desire to learn more theology, but in my head, theology was the bully that pushed me off the swing set, called me an idiot, and then took my swing.

I arrived at Emmaus weeks after a failed attempt to contract an illness so I could stay home. Fast forward through minimal amounts of sleep, long discussions, theological frustrations, and emotional navigation to the last full day at Emmaus. I and the other three students from The Lutheran Center who felt the same exhaustion decided to go outside and walk the grounds of the priory on the last full day at Emmaus.

As we aimlessly wandered through the paths and trees and traipsed through various fields, we crossed a wooden bridge and found metal crosses dotted across the horizon. They were stations of the cross. Without saying a thing, my friends and I picked up a prayer pamphlet and began following the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

We prayerfully and vividly imagined Jesus being crowned with thorns, falling to his knees just to rise again and march to certain death. I remembered a time growing up Catholic when the stations of the cross scared me. It seemed morbid and brutal to constantly be reminded of the suffering endured by Jesus. To think of the jeering and spitting, the sweat and tears and the blood and nails, was enough to send me reeling in dismay.

But with the sunset cresting over the rolling hills, turning the January skies over the priory to cotton candy, I didn’t feel dismayed. I didn’t feel scared of theology. I didn’t feel ashamed of what I believed. I saw the crucifixion through the lens of the theology of the cross: that Jesus died for me and you and everyone, that he suffers alongside us and that that is a gift.

Without going to Emmaus, I never would have learned of the theology of the cross and would never have seen hope in the crucified and risen Christ. But through Emmaus and it’s excellent coordinators and professor, I found what Emmaus, what knowledge, what hospitality, what something like the crucifixion really is.

A gift, too often overlooked by fear that, once opened, is the hope in a morbid and brutal world.

Connecting people to Christ, so they may discover their own calling as disciples.