NRSV LUKE 24:13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
This is now the sixth Sunday in which we have celebrated worship by being apart. It’s not something we hoped for.
But this is our reality in this Covid-19 world. Like other churches we have been forced to stay home, maybe take in another worship service by Facebook or YouTube, or maybe even Zoom. We are discovering new ways to worship. Over the last few weeks I have put videos together, not of a whole worship service, or even a whole sermon I have learned from watching others that it is usually better to keep it short, so I have, while devoted people of this church make sure that printed copies of sermons go out to those who request them. It’s a new time, a challenging time. A time to maintain and maybe develop new ways of being a community of faith.
What makes it tougher for us is that after this Sunday I will have only three more Sundays as your pastor. It’s not what any of us hoped for, as I have learned from talking with several of you. I deeply appreciate your thoughts and kind comments to me in these last few weeks, and believe me I feel deeply about you all as well. Over the last few months I have been mulling over in my head what to say in these last Sundays. I thought I would have time to put a lot of them into sermons. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the case.
I have been told by the General Presbyter of this Presbytery to come back and lead a worship service and preach one more time at a date to be determined. I would love to do that. But I have been a minister long enough to know that when a church transitions to a new pastor having the old guy back even for one Sunday can be kind of a ‘burp’ in the church’s movement. Hopefully you all will have moved on, but just as hopefully we can spare one more Sunday to worship together.
Lest this turn into a big pity party for your outgoing pastor it should be noted that there are plenty of other instances in which things have happened which we never planned, things we did not hope for. I was hoping to do a wedding yesterday for a charming couple who have joined our church. We were all looking forward to it, in that they have become an integral part of our church. But as the news became more and more dire, they felt it was important to postpone their wedding. They will get married, their love is not cancelled. But the date is off in the distance at a place they cannot see right now. It’s not what they had hoped for.
They are not the only ones. Couples who cannot get married now, or who are getting married without friends and families around, doing it through Zoom with the officiating pastor or justice of the peace at a distance; they never hoped for this. People wanted to have a funeral for their loved one. Those who have the coronavirus are forced to die alone without the touch of someone they know and love. How blessed are those healthcare workers who take on that role. It’s not what any of them hoped for.
High school and college seniors wanted to have a graduation. People wanted to have a retirement party, a farewell gathering. People wanted to have a family reunion. People wanted to take that special trip they have been dreaming about for years. They had hoped it would happen, but it’s not happening now. Hopefully, they will get to do all of that. But for now, who knows when that will be?
No, it’s not what we’d hoped for.
That’s a big part of what makes all of this social distancing tough. I know I feel the pain of not being able to do something I have been trained for but which I also truly love to do – lead worship, bring God’s word to people, open up different ways of looking at what God may be saying to us. So many wonderful opportunities to get together, to share a handshake or a hug, to celebrate, to see the facial expressions of joy, or sorrow, all of that gone for now. All of those hopes dashed. Not what we planned.
We also had not hoped that our Easter services would be cancelled. But Easter came anyway. The tomb is still empty, the news “He is risen” given not to a throng of people in fancy hats but to three fearful women whose minds are totally blown by what they have seen and heard. They go running back to the disciples – the big, burly men, huddled behind locked doors in fear that they will be next on a cross. The women give them the message, but the men blow it all off as an idle tale. Curiosity gets the better of Peter, so he goes running off to the tomb and finds it empty. Scratching his head in bewilderment, he scuffles home.
Also scuffling somewhere were a couple of disciples, Cleopas and someone unnamed. They head off to the enclave of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. It’s a place to go to get away from things for a while, to clear their heads. After witnessing their teacher be arrested, beaten up and crucified, nothing had turned out the way they had hoped for at all.
As they walk and talk, a stranger comes up and wants to know what they were talking about. We know who the stranger is, but they don’t. We can speculate on why they don’t know who he is, but there are better points to wonder about.
Like where is their focus in all of this? They talk about all of the things they had witnessed, about the suffering and the crucifixion of their teacher. But then their focus becomes clear: “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They had hoped Jesus would be the one who would fulfill the role of the Messiah as they – and so many others – understood it; to toss out the occupying Romans, to expel the empire, and restore independence to Israel.
In saying that, Cleopas and the unnamed disciple line themselves up with all of us. In fact, I think that other disciple is unnamed so we can put our own names in there. We all have expectations of who Jesus is and what he should have done or will do. We had hoped he would throw out the Romans; we hoped he would magically make this virus disappear; we hoped he would give us a less messy life; we hoped our kids would have the same values we do; we hoped that our marriage would have turned out better; we hoped our jobs would be more fulfilling; we hoped that our neighbors would understand more and judge less, rather than the other way around; we hoped we would make better decisions; we hoped we and our fellow humans would take better care of this earth; we hoped justice would prevail and all people would be respected no matter who they are, what their opinions are, how they dress, or anything else. We had hoped…
During our time in isolation, we have heard a lot of really good sermons. One was preached last week by the Rev. Amy Miracle, head of staff at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio. Rev. Miracle said that what she sees in all of this is a reminder that people are generally either over-functioning or under-functioning. It sounds here like these two disciples are over-functioning; they want to control everything, including who Jesus is and what Jesus will do. Over-functioning people will look at something like this pandemic and make a plan, expecting people to stick to it. Under-functioning people are those who are stuck, who stay behind locked doors and barred windows, who stay put and don’t move. They just do not know what to do.
Both of these people have things they are hoping for – to get a plan going, or for someone else to tell them what to do. But the resurrected Christ doesn’t do either. With these disciples, he takes them back to Moses and the prophets and explains to them how the Scripture – the entire Biblical witness, Old Testament as well as the New – showed who the Christ was and what he was going to do. Any breakdown in what we had hoped for is because we wanted Jesus to be our own kind of Christ, instead of the One he was: A suffering Christ, a dying Christ. God in the flesh who does not take way our pain as much as God dwells with us in the midst of every pain we experience. A God who does not abandon us when we are alone or broken.
The resurrected Christ does not just talk about that. He embodies it. He does that by entering into the house as a guest, and then takes on the role of the host. He takes bread, gives thanks, breaks and gives it to them. And then – and only then – do they recognize him.
Whenever we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion around here I start off with that story. I try to add a little dramatic flair to it, to give it some impact. That is always my hope, anyway. But it has enough impact of its own. It comes from a Jesus who is finally recognized by his disciples not so much by what he says but by what he does – he breaks the bread. Jesus is seen not in glory but in brokenness.
That is what connects that story with our times. We are living in a time of brokenness – broken jobs, broken dreams, broken hopes. This is not what we had hoped for. But you could say that about the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, too. None of his followers hoped that would happen, not even Judas.
But it did happen. And it happens to us. Brokenness happens in our lives, in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it even happens when we are planning for or working for something good. We don’t want it to happen. We had hoped it would never come to this. But it does. Lives get messy. Death intrudes way too much. Fear stalks every heart.
What gets us through these messy, broken times is, in part, remembering this story. That even in our fearful, messy, broken times, Jesus comes in and eats with us. He takes the bread, breaks it, and in that brokenness we see his movement, we remember his teaching, we recall his presence with us in the worst things that have happened to us.
Think about your own life. Think about those times when it seemed that all was broken, those times which you felt like all your hopes were dashed. Then think about the ways in which the resurrected Christ came in: through an eerie but unmistakable sense of peace; through a phone call from someone who had just the right words you needed to hear; from simply knowing that somebody cared for you.
We might think, ‘well, that was what somebody else did, not Jesus.’ But Jesus was there. Jesus is always there when acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of compassion, acts of reconciliation take place. Jesus is there when people are lifted up and reminded that resurrection is not an event of long ago; it takes place every grace-filled moment we live.
Nothing is as what we had hoped for. But in God’s grace through the resurrected Christ, we are given a new hope, and a new life. Amen.