April 26, 2020 / 3rd Sunday in Easter / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Acts 2:14a, 36-41 / 2nd Reading 1 Peter 1:17-23 / Gospel Luke 24:13-35
On the Road with Jesus
The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus brings to mind some things we are missing these days: For starters, the freedom to travel. For those disciples there’s no stay at home order. They journey up and down that road between Jerusalem and Emmaus. They engage with strangers without any social distancing. They eat a meal with persons other than family members. And at the end of the story they gather in one place with over a dozen people. This story also presents emotions that many are experiencing these days: sadness, disappointment, anxiety, lost hope.
The two disciples express their grief to the stranger who joins them as they walk along. They tell of their shock and sorrow at the crucifixion of Jesus. They share their broken dream: “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Can you hear the poignancy of that lament? Lost hope is painful and discouraging. Many right now are dealing with hopes deferred or lost altogether:
- students who had been looking forward to proms and graduations;
- athletes whose seasons are cancelled;
- more seriously, those who are out of work;
- those whose businesses are closed – and perhaps at risk of not surviving;
- most of all, those who have lost friends and relatives to the pandemic.
As they walk along, Jesus listens and acknowledges their sadness and confusion. He doesn’t rush to reveal himself. He doesn’t interrupt or deny the depth of their feelings. He doesn’t rush to fix their troubles. First of all, Jesus takes time to listen to them. In these difficult times, this is a good reminder to us all: take time to listen, especially to those who are hurting.
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I remind you that Jesus is with us as we walk along our road of uncertainty, fear and sadness. We may not see or feel or recognize him. But Jesus walks with us. As he said to those two disciples, Jesus says to us: “Tell me about these things.” “Tell me how it is with you.” Think of it as an invitation to prayer. Jesus is saying to us: “Open your heart. Share what you are feeling. Tell me about it.” Now, it may not be how you usually pray – but it is a useful practice to lament what we have lost, what we are missing. It can help to give voice in prayer to your sorrows and frustrations. There is genuine grief for a future that may not be all that you had hoped or imagined. You can take it to the Lord in prayer.
The dramatic irony in this story, of course, is that the Jesus the disciples are mourning is walking beside them. Even though they had heard rumors that Jesus might be alive, they do not recognize him. Their grief and disappointment dull their sight. On the day of resurrection, they are still dwelling on his death.
But then they do see Jesus. There is a wonderful, transcendent moment of recognition – just as there is in some of the other Easter stories. Recall: when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, she mistakes him for a gardener and asks where they have moved the body of Jesus. But when Jesus calls her by name – “Mary” – she sees that it is Jesus. For Thomas, the moment comes when he actually sees the wounds in the hands and feet and side of Jesus. For Cleopas and his friend, it happens when they invite the stranger to stay for dinner. And he takes the bread and blesses and breaks and gives it to them. This they had seen before – and at once they recognized Jesus.
At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus took the loaves from one lunch. He blessed and broke them – and gave them to the people to eat. Throughout the gospels, Jesus breaks bread with all kinds of people: both rich and poor, faithful and sinful. Throughout his ministry, Jesus breaks and shares bread as a sign of God’s abundance, God’s gracious mercy, God’s desire to welcome all people as companions. A “companion” is literally one who breaks bread with another: “panis” is Latin for bread. Jesus wants all of us to be his companions. It’s worth noting at the conclusion of this story that when Cleopas and his friend return to Jerusalem: “they found the eleven and their COMPANIONS gathered together.”
Now because Cleopas and the other disciple were not members of the inner circle of apostles, they were not present at the Last Supper. But you and I cannot miss the connection between Emmaus and the Last Supper. Luke describes how on that night in which he was betrayed, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them.” We have come to see and to believe that Jesus is not only the one who breaks and blesses and gives the bread – he is himself the Living Bread, the Bread of Life.
When Jesus breaks and blesses and gives them the bread at Emmaus, the eyes of the disciples are opened – and they recognize him. They know that he is not dead, but alive and with them. They realize that their hopes are not in vain.
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In the midst of our sorrows and uncertainties, our disappointments and our fears, how and when does Jesus show up for us? Certainly at Holy Communion – which is why we miss sharing the Lord’s Supper during this time apart. Yet Jesus also appears in ordinary, everyday unexpected moments: Perhaps at meal time, as you come together to break bread and say a prayer of thanks. Perhaps at bedtime, saying a prayer with your kids as you put them to bed. Perhaps when you pause to listen to a bird’s song or notice the spectacular beauty of a sunset or a blooming flower. Jesus promises to be with us always – and he is. We need to cultivate ears to hear and eyes to see and hearts to welcome him.
I was aware of the presence of Jesus this past Tuesday. It was at a graveside service at Lakeside Cemetery for Lyle Neagle. Lyle was Sandy Neagle’s husband and the father of Debbie MacAyeal. Certainly it was a shared moment of grief and sorrow: grief at losing one dearly loved; grief at the circumstances which prevented a more complete funeral service. There was a cold wind blowing – and we all felt the chill of this present time: so many things are not as we would have them be. We are living with circumstances beyond our control. Nevertheless, Jesus showed up and was present with us: He was present in the words of the liturgy. We were reminded that we have been baptized into Christ – and so we will share in his death and his resurrection. A prayer reminded us that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ. A scripture reading spoke to our hopes: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.” This is why he can be with us. Jesus appeared in the words Debbie shared in loving memory of her father – how he had been loving and devoted over so many ears: loving his family as Jesus loved him.
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Friends, be sure of this: As we walk along this bending road of which we cannot see the end – Jesus walks with us. Jesus listens to our griefs and our fears and our frustrations. And his life speaks to us of a hope that will not be disappointed. This road we’re on is not a dead end. It’s a road that leads to abundant and eternal life.
Thanks be to God.