Sunday Apr 26, 2020 - 3rd Sunday of Easter - New Life Lutheran Church
I love this story of Jesus meeting these disciples on the road to Emmaus. I love it for many reasons. One is that these “disciples” are people we’ve never heard of before - or since. We tend to think of Jesus’ disciples as very famous people - Peter, John, Judas. People we know 2,000 years later in history. But Cleopas, and some one not even named? There were many disciples, followers of Jesus. They were just people: they didn’t become famous. They could be…us.
I love the description: that when the stranger asked them what they were discussing, they didn’t answer right away: they just stopped and “stood still, looking sad.”
And then they, politely started to explain: “Really, you haven’t heard? It seems like everyone in the city would have heard about the popular rabbi, his arrest, trial, and execution.”
“He was a prophet. We thought he was the Messiah. But now, after three days, it seems he is really dead.”
“Some women said they have seen him, today - and angels! And his body is gone…”
They are just lost, and sad. And walking away from the chaos and the danger of the city. Trying to figure out how to to move forward and…go on with life.
And the stranger says, “No! Don’t you see?! The scriptures say this had to happen!” And he goes on to explain and give examples.
And they start…to hope. Just a little.
And they convince this stranger—who has broken through their fog of grief and worry and brought back hope—to stay, to rest, to join them for dinner.
And when he breaks the bread - they see. They see the one who broke the bread for them just three nights ago, and said he would be with them, in the breaking of the bread. And then he is gone. They run back to Jerusalem, to share the news. And now Peter, too, has seen Jesus, just as the women did, first, that early morning at the empty tomb.
This Emmaus story is a story of grief. In truth, grief lasts much longer than a long walk. Or three days. But this story resonates because we see how grief works, and we know that pattern.
First, there is just pain, then fog - confusion. There is the not believing it is real, when you lose some one.
Then there is the forgetting it is real: waking up and forgetting that the world is not normal anymore. And then the not knowing how to put one foot in front of the next. How do you make breakfast? Go to work? How do you bear the pain of your heart breaking?
In the Emmaus story, the story of the disciples who could be anyone - who could be us - it all happens on one long slow walk: the pain, the fog, the confusion, the glimmer of hope—and then…the recognition that the loved one is there, still. With them in a new way.
It happens quickly because this is not just a story of hope, but THE story of hope. Our faith story, the story on which we hang our trust in God, as Christians. It is the story that Jesus came to tell: not in words, but in living - and dying - and living again.
I am thinking this week of those who have lost loved ones in this time of social isolation in a pandemic. Those who have lost people not only to the virus, but also to the normal and earth-shattering events of deaths for all reasons. You who have lost loved ones have not had the chance to see them, perhaps, one more time. Or to mourn with your family and friends - to gather.
I am thinking of those who have had the many smaller deaths in their lives as a result of this biological disaster: those who have lost businesses, and jobs. Those who have lost health and precious time - from not getting surgeries or treatments. Those who have lost relationships as things that were already tenuous or frayed come unraveled. Those who have lost vacations and graduations and special long-planned events. Or plans to move or change jobs or buy a home. Things that maybe cannot ever be fully recovered, at least not in the same way.
Into all of these deaths, big and catastrophic and small but painfully real, speaks the story of the Road to Emmaus. First, you may just stop, stand still, and look sad. Then you may summon up the duty to do normal things like conversation. And then, unexpectedly, someday - maybe soon or maybe long in the future - you will be surprised by hope. Hope that perhaps things might yet be OK. And then, even more unexpectedly, you will be surprised by joy. You will find that seeing an image of the one you’ve lost brings you comfort and joy. Or hearing a new idea for a way to celebrate the thing you missed or lost. And in the normal things - conversation, meals - hope and joy will show up, unbidden, unexpected.
Death and resurrection is the story Jesus came to tell. And came back to tell. And comes back to tell, in the bread, in each other, in seeds that grow into flowers, in songs that creep back into our minds and we find ourselves singing before we even realize. That’s it. That’s Easter. Easter is coming, Easter has happened, Easter is here.