Third Sunday in Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-44
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Alleluia Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed Alleluia!
This third Sunday in the Easter season
finds us on the road,
the road to Emmaus.
Luke’s story of the two disciples
traveling away from Jerusalem
that first Easter evening
who are joined by a stranger on the road
who they tell of the events of the last three days,
their hopes and disappointment and confusion,
who then opens to them the scriptures
and when they arrive at their destination,
they invite the stranger to stay for the night and share a meal with them,
in the breaking of the bread it is revealed that Jesus
was the stranger with them all along
and so the disciples rush out into the night
back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples
who are sharing resurrection stories.
The Journey to Emmaus
is a story beloved of the church.
It seems like it has everything,
disciples coming from disbelief to belief,
a resurrection appearance of Jesus,
modeling accompaniment as a way of evangelism,
All these great things that we love to talk about,
for awhile it seemed like every assembly and conference I went to
used the story of the Walk to Emmaus
as the scriptural basis for their theme
and none of the themes were the same
but all fell under the heading of this is how we do church!
There are so many good things in the story,
but this year it seems to me
that the bits that we usually focus on
and rejoice in during the Easter season,
hospitality leading to the revelation of Jesus in the breaking of the bread,
the rush to return to community,
serve more to highlight that which we are missing right now
hitting the tender spots created by the grief caused by the pandemic.
Now don’t get me wrong,
as much as I long to be gathered together once again,
to break the bread,
to not just see but feel the presence of the body of Christ before me
in the gathered congregation,
I want to ensure that everyone will be here
to partake in that joyous occasion,
and that means staying separate for awhile longer.
It means continuing the lenten fast
beyond an arbitrary date on the calendar
journeying to a day both expected and unknown,
and in the meantime looking at old stories with new eyes.
Which is why, this year,
I take comfort in the first part of the story of the Road to Emmaus,
the journey part.
It’s Easter afternoon,
the resurrection has been announced to the women
who have shared it with the disciples
who don’t quite know what to do with the news.
For two of the disciples,
it marks the time to go home.
They followed Jesus,
heard him preach, saw him heal,
and were present for his arrest, conviction and crucifixion
the dashing of their hopes
that Jesus might be the messiah,
because of travel restrictions on the sabbath
they stayed in Jerusalem
but now it’s time to go back home,
to return to life before their hopes were raised
and so they leave,
even with the women and the other disciples finding the tomb empty,
it’s confusing but there will be some explanation,
dead is dead, no one comes back from that.
They are mulling all this over as they travel home
and a stranger,
who is Jesus but they don’t know that yet,
comes near to them and asks
“what are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
and this question
brings them to a stand still,
“They stood still, looking sad.”
Their grief is such that this ordinary question:
what are you talking about?
Stops them in their tracks.
That’s the way it is with grief sometimes,
it surfaces in the midst of the ordinary
causing us to stand still and be sad for a moment
because we’ve forgotten that life goes on around us
even in the midst of our grief.
Cleopas asks “are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?”
showing just how consumed his world has been in Jesus,
Jerusalem is a large place,
there would have been many people who didn’t know about the execution of Jesus,
but it is inconceivable to Cleopas
that anyone should not know about it.
And here Jesus responds
not by revealing who he is
but by asking a simple question: What things?
And allows the disciples to tell the story
of their experience of Jesus,
their hopes raised and dashed,
their confusion of the morning.
Jesus listens to their lament,
the voicing of their grief
and when they finish,
Jesus turns them back to the scriptures,
reminds them of the words of the prophets,
reframes their experience in light of the promises of God,
helps them look at the scriptures with new eyes
as he is present with them on their journey.
We might wonder why Jesus didn’t reveal himself right away,
wouldn’t have that answered the disciples questions?
But perhaps Jesus knew that they were not yet ready
for a resurrection appearance,
they needed time to grieve first.
In his article on WorkingPreacher.org this week professor Matt Skinner, reflecting on this says:
“I’m so glad that Jesus doesn’t reveal himself to Cleopas and his companion right away but waits. Why does he wait? Jesus is neither testing, scolding, nor humiliating the shell-shocked couple. He is, literally, journeying with them. There he is, present, as they narrate their disappointment and confusion. He does not cut them off. He knows that explanations will not cure their foolishness and slowness to believe.
The time will come to redirect his friends, but first he lets them proceed one heavy step after another.”
Humans in tough situations need to lament before anything else
and lament takes time,
lament is the manure laid on the field
in preparation for planting the seeds of new life,
it doesn’t smell so great
but it is a necessary step to ensure
that the new life grows healthy and strong
past the initial sprout.
I think this is where we are at right now.
Even as we sing Alleluia
and proclaim the risen Christ,
we are also still on the road to Emmaus,
narrating our disappointment and confusion,
laying the ground work for new life together,
life that will last.
And whether we realize it or not,
Jesus is walking alongside us,
asking us questions that stop us in our tracks,
showing us new ways to look at the promises of God
and preparing us to receive the revelation of the risen Lord
in a way that sustains new life in Christ.
That day is coming,
the resurrected Christ sustains our hope,
and the resurrected Christ walks with us on the way. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.