Our theme today comes from the story of the Jesus becoming known to the Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and their eyes opening to the resurrected Christ in their midst. Click link below for worship service.
Charles Schultz wrote a book 30 years ago in 1991: “My Anxieties have Anxieties.” What a perfect title for these pandemic times. It also fits the mood of the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus. Early that morning, according to the Gospel of Luke, the women went to the tomb and received the message that Jesus had risen. The disciples dismissed the words of the women as “idle gossip”. Later that afternoon, a stranger appears to Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, as they were walking the seven mile distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but they do not yet recognize him as Jesus. Throughout the sermon I am also going to insert the words of the unfamiliar hymn we just sang.
The first verse of the hymn we just sang,“On the Day of Resurrection” from UM Hymnal #309 says:
On the day of resurrection to Emmaus we return;
while confused, amazed, and frightened,
Jesus comes to us, unknown.
What intuitive trust they must have had! Rather than hide their desolation and disappointment, they pour their hearts out to this stranger. They speak four words that hold universal truth: “But we had hoped …” a future that is not to be. We feel those words so poignantly too… “But we had hoped…”
When plans fail or a pandemic prevails; when hope seems elusive; when bad things happen, how do we cope?
What I know from this story and my faith is that in the midst of loss, Jesus comes alongside, but we don’t always recognize it. We tend to see only what we expect to see, and not recognize what and who God places in our lives. Mary Magdalene sees a gardener rather than the risen Lord. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus see a stranger.
We too, sometimes fail to see the presence of God or the risen Christ in our midst. Full of grief, they fail to recognize the sign of hope that joins them on the journey. Jesus, the risen one, who walks alongside. The 2nd verse:
Then this stranger asks a question,
“What is this which troubles you?”
Meets us in our pain and suffering,
Jesus walks with us, unknown.
When our Emmaus road is filled with discouragement and despair, we can hold on to hope that Jesus comes alongside, traveling with us, companioning with us, known or unknown, bidden or unbidden.
As they walk and talk, Jesus opens the scriptures to them. The 3rd verse:
In our trouble, words come from him;
burning fire within our hearts.
Tells to us the scripture’s meaning.
Jesus speaks to us, unknown.
And as they neared their village, they are not yet ready to let go of this stranger. They offer hospitality. “Stay with us. Don’t go.” The 4th verse of the hymn continues the theme of an as yet unknown Jesus.
Then we near our destination.
Then we ask the stranger in,
and he yields unto our urging;
Jesus stays with us, unknown.
It is when Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gives it to them, their eyes are opened.”
There are two other songs we are using in our worship that may have been inspired by this passage, Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord And Open My eyes Lord, We want to See Jesus. As they offer hospitality, their guest becomes the host. In the intimacy of sharing a meal, their eyes and hearts are opened leading to a theophany, an encounter with the Risen Jesus, who is known in the breaking of bread. The 5th verse of the hymn unveils a previously unknown Jesus, now made known:
Day of sorrow is forgotten
when the guest becomes the host.
Taking bread and blessing, breaking,
Jesus is himself made known.
There is a fleeting moment of joy and amazement, then Jesus is gone – just as mysterious, elusive, and unexpected as he came, but leaving them with warmed hearts. Their spirits are so enlivened and energized that they literally leave their home, and walk back the 7 miles to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other Disciples. There is a famous Latin phrase Solvitur ambulando – “it will be solved in the walking.” Apparently a walk and a meal CAN transform your life.
It is now Easter evening as Cleopas and his companion finish telling the other disciples about their encounter with Jesus on the road. When Jesus appears again, they are terrified and think they are seeing a ghost.
We encounter another hopeful verse filled with wisdom in Scripture: “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering….” As people of faith, we are called to live with the continual tension of Joy, Disbelief, and Wonder. It may seem disingenuous to talk about experiencing joy in the midst of dealing with COVID19 with so much death, grief, and other situations that overwhelm us. Yet, we are reminded that joy & sorrow, wonder & knowledge, courage & fear, confidence & insecurity – these are not polar opposites but part of our lived experience.
Hope & Faith aren’t about embracing only one side of the equation like joy, courage confidence, and belief. Hope & Faith take root in the tension of joy & disbelief. Resurrection faith means that joy comes in the midst of doubt and sorrow. It is the hope in things unseen.
Two weeks ago, I asked you to consider where you are finding Resurrection Hope in the midst of the pandemic. Some of you will remember Kathleen Kenna who moved to the Bay Area two years ago. She and her husband Hadi had been in a horrible bombing in Iraq and barely escaped with their lives. Kathleen joined us for worship last week, and sent me this email of how she brings hope:
I have been working with homeless veterans for more than 2 years since I left UCUP! and let me reassure you of this: Hope is reborn each day. No matter how difficult, how perilous, how distressing, how terrifying life has been, or has become, and still is for our veterans, I offer them hope. In spirit AND in a tangible way. One technique I use is to buy adhesive letters and spell the word HOPE on small gift tags. Then, when a veteran tells me he or she has lost hope or is hopeless, I ask them to pick a card from a fan of these little tags. They’re all game, they select a card, but can’t see what it says yet. I then press the word hope into the palm of their hand.
Invariably they smile when they see the four letters. “You’ve given me hope!!” (It’s not always said in a joyous voice, but most veterans’ voices lift a bit with this card in their hand.) And then I say,
”I have. Do you believe in hope? Do you believe it can hold you?” (These are some of my usual responses … shaped for the individual, depending on their level of expressed hopelessness.)
Most reply, that they’re starting to, because they’ve found a safe and warm and comfortable home in Safe Haven, where I work. Some have worked with our small staff and have been washed in enthusiasm and optimism and loving care — they can express gratitude with their rediscovery of hope. And many just soften — in whatever affect/body posture/disgruntled expression they exhibited before receiving the card.
Two elder veterans who insisted there was no hope — were adamant that it doesn’t exist — came to me after a group where I introduced these tags. Privately, both men said they were glad to know I could hold on to hope, no matter what.
If a veteran has stated religious beliefs or spirituality, I will share that my hope is a daily gift from God. If not, I assure them with authentic light and love, that I have enough hope to hold them, too. This tiny reassurance may be the difference between a formerly homeless veteran believing that there’s a positive way forward.
Most of you know our Afghanistan story (I share just enough to show that we’ve been through some perilous times too), so there’s often a sense of wonderment: How can you hold on to hope some strongly, how can you believe in it so fervently? I have one simple response, always: “How not?”
One line stays with me so strongly from Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
The last verse of the Hymn On the Day of Resurection sings:
Opened eyes, renewed convictions,
journey back to scenes of pain;
telling all that Christ is risen.
Jesus is through us made known.
Contemporary spiritual guru Ram Das said,
“We’re all just companions walking each other home.”
It strikes me as compelling truth. We navigate our way through this life full of wonder and joy; heartache and distraction, desolation and disaster, but we’re not walking it alone. It is in these times of that God journeys with us, comes alongside AND sends other pilgrims to share our journey.
And Jesus invites us to come alongside one another as well, to be the Christ in me, greeting the Christ in you. Or in these pandemic times – the MASK on me greets the MASK on you, NAMASKE.