St. Paul’s. – Easter 3 – April 26, 2020
Our gospel story today begins: Now on that same day…
When? The same day of that first Easter Sunday, when some went to Jesus’ tomb. Some women said, he rose from the dead and is alive. Some men said, It’s just an idle tale. Some said they saw angels. Some said, all they saw was linen wrappings. Some didn’t know what to say.
Now on that same day, two of them…Who are they?
One is a disciple named Cleopas. The other is left unnamed. Perhaps accidentally. Perhaps purposefully. The unnamed disciple could be anyone. Anyone who says, Christ is risen! and yet still wonders, Now what?
Now on that same day, two of them, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Where is Emmaus? Emmaus, the Bible says, is about 7 miles from Jerusalem. But, actually, there is no consensus among biblical scholars as to where Emmaus was.Today, there is no Emmaus on the map, and no commemorative site to visit. That means, Emmaus could anywhere. Or nowhere.
Now on that same day, two of them, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. What happened? It was unbelievable. They couldn’t make sense of it. But this much they knew: They knew that Jesus was a prophet, mighty in word and deed. They knew their chief priests handed him over to be crucified. They knew the Roman soldiers mocked him, beat him, hung him on a cross and left him to die. They knew they had believed he was the one to redeem their people, to rule with righteousness; to save them all. But now he was dead and gone.
Their hopes were dashed. But we had hoped….Words in this passage that people have been saying since before the Pandemic… But we had hoped the tumor wasn’t malignant. We had hoped our marriage would get easier. We had hoped our son would come home. We had hoped the depression would lift. We had hoped to keep our jobs. We had hoped to carry the baby to term. We had hoped the pandemic would spare our family. We had hoped for a peaceful death. We had hoped to experience God’s presence when we pray. We had hoped our faith would survive. But we had hoped. The words we speak on the road to Emmaus are words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and yearning. They are the words we say when we’ve come to the end of our hopes — when our expectations have been dashed, our cherished dreams are dead, and there’s nothing left to do but leave, defeated and done. But we had hoped.
The two people on the Road had to get away from the suffering and fear and the hopelessness. They had to get away. Run away. Far away. And so they hit the road. The road to Emmaus.
Sometimes we need a road to Emmaus. Emmaus is where we go when something unbelievable has happened. That you can’t make sense of. Like today. What is happening today? We can’t make sense of it. All we we know is:
We know the coronavirus infections are over 890,000 and almost 50,000 deaths, and rising. We know that those on the front lines who are overworked and unprotected.
We know that unemployment rates are high and food bank lines are long. We know national and state leaders are debating about when we can get back to normal, but we don’t know what this new normal will look like.
We know that our homes feel like less sanctuary and more home office and on-line classroom, less empty nest and more close quarters, less vacation and more endless quarantine. We want to get away. Far away. Far away from the suffering and fear and hopelessness. We want to get away. Run away. Far away. We want to hit the road. The road to Emmaus. On the road to Emmaus is where we can look to the God of resurrection for answers: Now what?
Now on that same day, two of them, were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. How can this be? Jesus walked with them. Talked with them. And he recounted the story of their faith to them. He reminded them that the Messiah had to suffer and die. Through suffering, salvation was won. Through hopelessness, hope was born. But, they did not see that suffering is a part of the story. Their faith story and life story. They did not recognize Jesus. They couldn’t see Jesus, just their suffering and hopelessness.
These weeks are hard for me. One day, all I could see was COVID-19. Disease. Death. Despair. I wanted this virus to be destroyed. I wanted this quarantine to end and things to open. I wanted to get away. Far away. Far away from the suffering and fear and hopelessness. I wanted to get away. Run away. Far away. I wanted to hit the road. The road to Emmaus. I needed to look to the God of resurrection for answers: Now what?
And it was on my road to Emmaus, one day, that one of my favorite authors, and spiritual guides, Richard Rohr, met me there, in the form of an email devotion: When we try to live in solidarity with the pain of the world—and do not spend our lives running from it—we will encounter various forms of ‘crucifixion.’ The soul must walk through such suffering to go higher, further, deeper, or longer…Somehow hope provides its own kind of meaning, in a most mysterious way.
His words remind me that: Suffering is a part of life. It is not something we can avoid or run away from. And, good can come out of suffering. Things that are good for the soul. But only if we walk through it and open ourselves up to the lessons that we might learn from it. Ironically, It’s in the fear. It’s in the suffering. It’s in our hopelessness. It’s right there in the midst of our looking for answers, where Jesus meets us. Even if we don’t recognize him.
When the disciples got to Emmaus, they invited this stranger to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were open and they recognized him…That same hour, they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together, and they said, “The Lord has risen indeed!” How did they recognize him? Maybe it was in the needed rest in Emmaus. Maybe it was the needed food they ate. Maybe it was seeing on Jesus’ hands, the marks of the nails. Maybe it was seeing that Christ’s body broken for them, Christ’s blood poured out for them. Maybe it was seeing that out of his suffering, something good came, the promise that God would be with them, in life and in death, always. It was then that they recognized him.
Then they could get back on the road, not to Emmaus, but from Emmaus. Then, and only then, they could join with the others, proclaiming, The Lord is risen indeed!
On this day, we proclaim, The Lord is risen! But, still we wonder, Now what? What does this gospel story of Emmaus mean for us today?
This much I know: I know that there is no place we can go where Jesus will not find us. I know that Jesus meets us on the road to Emmaus. He walks with us. He talks with us. He reminds us. He reassures us. He helps us make sense of things. Or at least make peace with them. He gives us eyes to see, so that even in the midst of a pandemic, we can recognize Jesus.
- where there is fear, he is resurrecting faith.
- where there is suffering, he is resurrecting love.
- where there is hopelessness, he is resurrecting hope.
And I know that he doesn’t leave us there. He gently guides us back on the road. The road from Emmaus. Back home. Back to our community of faith. Back where we are in good Easter company. Back where we can find a renewed sense of hope.
So, open your eyes. Open the eyes of your heart. And you will recognize Jesus all around us:
- We see people sharing the light of Christ through their masks
- We see people caring for their neighbors more
- attentively and lovingly
- We see people slowing down and simplifying life
- We see people counting their blessings and focusing on what is really important
Everybody needs a road to Emmaus–and from Emmaus.
Thank God there’s a road where Jesus meets us with
resurrection hope. We gotta walk that road–together. We will be talking about this at our meeting at 12:30 today.
But we had hoped. Yes, we had. Of course we had. So very many things are different right now than we had hoped they’d be. And yet. The stranger who is the Savior still meets us on the lonely road to Emmaus. The guest who becomes our host still nourishes us with Presence, Word, and Bread.
So keep walking. Keep telling the story. Keep honoring the stranger. Keep attending to your burning heart. Christ is risen. He is no less risen on the road to Emmaus than on the road from Emmaus. So look for him. Listen for him. And when he lingers at your door, say what he longs to hear: Stay with me.
Let me close with a prayer from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer
Let us pray:
FOR PEOPLE CRITICALLY ILL,
OR FACING GREAT UNCERTAINTY
God of the present moment,
God who in Jesus stills the storm
and soothes the frantic heart;
bring hope and courage to your creation
wait in uncertainty.
Bring hope that you will make all people the equal
of whatever lies ahead.
Bring them courage to endure what cannot be avoided,
for your will is health and wholeness;
you are God, and we need you. AMEN+
from whom our words come;
from whom our questions arise;
of whom all our loves are hints;
in whom alone we may find rest;
in whose depths we find healing and
Enfold us now in this time of worship in your presence
restore us to your peace
renew us through your power
and ground us in your grace.
Pandemic Benediction No 3
May God bless you with joy
May you find moments of laughter and bliss
In the midst of suffering and distress
May you cherish those times and may they sustain you
May God bless you with the fruits of humility
May your humble and sacrificial actions
Be instrumental in preserving your community
And loving your neighbors
May God bless you with peace
In the face of financial hardship and uncertainty
May you know the faithful presence of the God who provides
Go in peace.
Wash your hands.
Love your neighbors.
You are not alone.