St. Paul’s Congregational Church
May 3, 2020 – Easter 4A
Luke 24: 13 – 35
Let us pray: Loving God, may we see you in the daily walk we do as witnesses to your resurrection in the dark. Remind us again what it means to be your Easter People as we experience true communion on the way with one another. Amen.
Friends are making their way from one place--a place of hope-turned-into-despair, a place of perplexity and the unbelievable tales of women--to another place: Emmaus. Frederick Buechner writes of the many ways we all seek to find a place, an Emmaus, to run to when we have lost hope or don't know what to do, a place of escape, of forgetting, of giving up, of deadening our senses and our minds and maybe our hearts, too. Emmaus was no special place really - the only reason the two disciples were going there was because it was miles away from a place, a situation that had become unbearable.
Think of times when the news, or your own life, unfolded in ways that shook the foundations of what you believed in, what you counted on, perhaps too fast for you to process and integrate into your understanding. What did you do to find peace and balance, and to build new foundations?
There’s not one of us who has not gone to Emmaus like these two disciples – it might be a trip to the movies just to get out, maybe buying a new suit or a new car, maybe going for a long walk. Emmaus may even be going to church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget what’s happening in the world. For the disciples, Emmaus is where they went to try to forget about Jesus – he’d made great promises and great claims – people had placed all their greatest hopes in him. But now he was dead.
Their world had been turned upside down, first by the life and teachings of Jesus, and now that same world has been "rocked" by his death. They haven't had time to absorb that calamity when they hear new stories about his rising from the dead. It’s just too much to process, to understand. Things happening so very fast.
All this sounds strikingly familiar, doesn’t it - our present struggle with COVID19 that is raging around the world has caused many of us to feel anxious in ways we have never before imagined – we follow the news, the terrible number of cases and deaths – we stand in line to get into grocery stores, we must wear masks, we can’t be with friends and family - sometimes the isolation, the fear, just gets to us and we hit the wall - we just want to go somewhere to escape. Most of us are used to a measure of everyday safety, of routine, in our lives, but the threat of this dangerous virus has shaken our foundations of that kind of security. Like those disciples long ago, we're trying to integrate new information and experience into our old worldview. We may feel especially anxious and uncertain about what the future will bring – we’re trying to deal with a “new normal.” And it’s hard. Sometimes to clear our heads we go for a walk.
Maybe, then, we can relate to those disciples long ago, trying to make sense of life after losing the One who had brought new meaning, new hope, new trust to their lives. Where was the next chapter of their story leading them, in the midst of this sorrow and loss? And we ask the same question: what’s our next chapter as individuals, as society, as church, amidst our very real crisis today?
Just 3 short weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection on Easter – we’re in the season of Eastertide - and this year, even more perhaps than in the past, we seek to know what that means – how does it affect our lives together? We remember reflecting that yes, our churches are empty – but so is the tomb! Eastertide is a time of looking ahead to a “new normal”, a time of transformation: and yes, here we are walking on that road to Emmaus.
The Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager wrote a reflection entitled, Glimpses of Resurrection on the Road for the Southern New England Conference, UCC. In it she says, “I’m a power walker. Well, I used to be when I’d walk early in the morning or cram steps into my schedule later in the day if I was too busy. That was before COVID-19. Now, walking isn’t just a way to burn calories or clear my head in ordinary times but has become a daily spiritual practice. Each footfall, a way to forge a trail through tears, worry and wonder in this time of Corona.
As the days of isolating at home continue and the death toll rises, I find myself walking farther and farther. I’m on the lookout for Resurrection. Lacing up my hiking boots for a trek in the woods or my worn sneakers, if it's time for a neighborhood walk. Often, the waves and smiles I receive in a day from passing cars is grace enough to fill my bucket for another day. Seeing the azaleas rising pink is resurrection, too.
Sometimes my husband and I hike up into the 100 acre wood at the end of our tiny dirt road. Noticing how the naked trees have slowly turned into branches of budding blossoms overhead is a balm in Gilead. As Tagore once wrote, Be still, my heart, these great trees are prayers.
In Luke’s telling, Cleopas and his unnamed friend are walking away from Jerusalem toward Emmaus. The road is long so there’s plenty of time for their grief to be shared. Conversation is punctuated by the stunning news of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and the women telling the news of a rolled-away stone. The stranger in their midst on the Emmaus road is quite clueless. Though we know otherwise.
So changed is Jesus that they don’t really get who he is until later that night when they sit down for supper. Ultimately, an offering of hospitality leads to bread broken and sight restored. Luke tells us, “Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread”.
Laura asks, “What does it mean to be on the lookout for resurrection in each step? As Easter people, we’re reminded once again that all is not lost. In spite of the debris of disease and the on-going pain of separation from one another, love in the time of Corona prevails. In each footfall, as we journey side by side, we can witness to the hope and random gestures of kindness offered along the way. How can we not see that Jesus is here in the strangers tending to loved ones in the ICU and the folks giving out more bags of groceries on the town green and church lawns? How can we not see him in the neighbors sharing the road with us? Some may miss him. Though we know otherwise.”
These beautiful stories of resurrection appearances we read during Eastertide are powerful stories of community, of believers, doubters, strugglers gathering and breaking apart. And gathering again, coming together and telling the stories of their experiences, sharing their memories of Jesus – his acts and his words – and then like us, like people of faith today, coming to new understandings and new inspiration.
And then what? They sit down at table together and break bread, and often with more than intellectual understanding, they come to see with their hearts what was right before them all along.
What are stories from your own life, when your eyes and your heart and your mind were opened because someone welcomed you, or because you opened your own heart, your door, your life, to a stranger, someone you never expected to be a blessing to you?
The good news is that God is still God, always. And the Bible tells us that God is good and generous and can be counted on, in every age and every circumstance.
How does God still speak to you today, not only through the encounter these early Christians had with Jesus, but through your own encounter with Jesus, in the breaking of bread, the sharing of stories, the study of Scripture?
We’re not just hearing or reading a story about something that happened to other people, long ago and far away. The same amazing things, the wonderful works of God, are happening here, today, in our lives, too, if we open our eyes and see, and then, maybe our hearts, too, will burn within us. When we struggle with questions of meaning and we just can't understand what's happening around us, the answer is often right before us.
What are the possibilities of transformation within ourselves, within our church? How is God still speaking to us in the midst of this crisis time in our lives? How will we meet the challenges to what have become our deeply entrenched comfort zones? God grant that our eyes, or even better our hearts, may be opened in the breaking of bread as it was on that road to Emmaus. So may it be! Amen.