Our gospel for this Sunday tell a familiar story. Now on that same day, two disciples walked with a stranger on the road to Emmaus. Luke 24:13-35
The sermon begins at the 15th minute of the service in the recording below:
(The text of the sermon is copied below as well.)
The Third Sunday of Easter
Now on that same day….our gospel begins…two disciples walked with a stranger on the road to Emmaus.
“Now on that same day…” What day is that, by the way?
It seems appropriate that our gospel lesson begins so vaguely for us this morning, as everything seems a bit disoriented right now, in this strange time of staying at home during a pandemic.
We hardly remember what day it is when we get up in the morning. One day last week I thought it was Wednesday all day long. I got ready for evening prayer, preparing by reading Tuesday’s lessons, and when I realized I was a day ahead, I worried all day the next day that I’d forget it was Wednesday. I didn’t thankfully, but only because I set my alarm on my phone to remind me.
So just in case you don’t know, “Now on that same day,” as today’s Gospel lesson begins, is Easter Day! Luke’s story today picks up just after Peter ran to verify that the women’s story was true: that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb.
Now on that same day, Jesus himself came up to two disciples and began walking with them, but they didn’t recognize him.
They were disoriented too, I’m sure. They were confused and perplexed. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Crucifixion, death, the abrupt end to Jesus’ ministry.
These disciples were making that long walk home after a defeat.
I know about that walk. I bet you do, too. When you and your team lost a game you were so excited about, a game you wanted to win so badly, a game you were supposed to win.
It is a long way home.
Maybe you know about that long walk of defeat when you were sure your political candidate would win, and didn’t.
Or…. when you lost something much more devastating: a marriage, a loved one, or a baby you’d longed for. Somehow, you find your way home; you make that long difficult walk to your familiar place, feeling confused, empty, needing to talk to someone about it, but not wanting to talk at all. Disoriented doesn’t even really cover the feeling, but it is part of loss, nonetheless.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to work out, not the way I dreamed it.
Jesus interrupts this long defeated walk of his disciples: “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” he asks.
The disciples stop. They stood still, looking sad. They didn’t recognize Jesus. But they begin explaining to this stranger, all that had taken place saying, “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
We had hoped…those words pierce us…they’re honest and discouraging.
As readers we know these people’s loss is short-lived, that Jesus is about to reveal himself, but for them, right then and there, it seemed as if all hope is lost.
“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Now, all our plans for victory, our chance to celebrate is gone. Nothing is turning out like we expected.
Jesus listens patiently for a time, but not for long. The next thing we know Jesus is shouting, “You fools!”
It’s shocking to hear this, still now. Not counting the questions Jesus asked to begin this dialogue, Calling these disciples foolish are the first words the risen Christ speaks in Luke’s Gospel story. The KJV of the passage says, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” In one translation I read, Jesus cries out, “You thick-headed people.” Jesus tells the disciples that nothing turned out like you’d expected because you haven’t been listening. You’ve had your own plans, your own ideas of what should have taken place.
The three went on walking together, and Jesus began telling scripture’s stories, once again, about the prophets of old and of God’s promises.
Still, they did not recognize him, because of what they had hoped.
We read the story of the walk to Emmaus every Easter, but this year, it seems to have arrived on our doorstep with a loud thud asking us this question:
“How do we recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives when things don’t turn out like we expect them to, and when our hopes seem dashed?”
Luke tells us that eventually the disciples did recognize Jesus when he broke bread with them, after which he disappeared. But upon reflection the disciples realized Jesus was revealing himself all along, “Were our hearts not burning within us as he was talking on the road?”
Through the Word, through their own sacred stories, Jesus reminded the disciples who they are and whose they are. In this walk, this walk that came out of despair, the disciples’ lives are restored, their hopes are transformed.
Hope is certainly what this world needs now—hope and … patience I’d say. We need a good measure of both, whether we’re living alone or learning to live with extra people in our homes.
We so want things to get back to normal, to get out of our houses, go to work; kids are even longing for school; and us church folk wonder when can we get back to passing the peace and sharing communion– in the broadest sense of the terms.
It is not a stretch to say we are living in foreign territory right now; we feel odd not being able to shake hands, and strange or at least uncomfortable wearing masks. It is all disorienting.
Even when we do come out of this to some resemblance of normal, and vow to hold on to those things we’ve treasured or gained from this strange time, I’m sure we’ll be hit with those who want to disorient us again.
“You only imagined you saw cleaner air,”
“you only think you felt better because you cooked more of your own food and walked every day;”
“if you think those who work daily with the sick and dying, are truly heroes you are living in fantasy land, the world doesn’t work that way.” I’m afraid the pundits are right, the ultimate Gaslighting is coming and it will be disorienting again.
How can we right ourselves, then, steady ourselves in the midst of all this?
You may think it just a coincidence, but we have today another answer in our lectionary. Peter is writing to the whole community of faith that came together following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
The new Christians were society’s outliers and Peter is trying to help them stay on the path; to the rest of the world the Christians’ promises such as blessing those who curse you, and praying for your enemies, and their vows which said they were never to turn away from anyone that is in want, but to share all things and not say that what you have is your own. —all of this seemed naïve and was far from the norm; the Christians were frankly resident aliens in their own communities and wondering how to deal with all the fallout they were getting.
Truthfully, they lived so close to Christ’s commandments, we might even treat these early Christians as oddballs too.
Peter tells these faithful, here is what you do: conduct yourselves with reverence. What is Peter suggesting? To be reverent means simply to acknowledge the presence of God in your life and in all that is around you.
Peter is saying, recognize the holy that is in you and with you in all you do.
We can argue that our lives as Christians should be a bit upside down according to this world’s norms, as we are to follow Christ’s example, and he went up against society’s economic and kinship norms, turning over tables to make his point at times.
Yet, in doing this, Christ’s goal is to set all people upright, even if the world sees it differently.
The walk to Emmaus was not a walk of defeat after all.
It was on that same day—Easter Day! The day of resurrection. Only Death was defeated.
We need no longer to be called fools.
God’s divine presence is in us and with us in all we do.
We need no longer to worry with the confusion of this crazy world.
We are Christ’s—he is the way, the truth, and the life.
We need no longer to feel disoriented. Christ abides with us, walking alongside us, restoring and transforming our hopes.
Thanks be to God.