Updated: Jul 30
So here we are again. It’s like Groundhogs Day, the movie not the celebration. It’s another Sunday and we have woken up to find ourselves again back on Easter Sunday. Because while our calendar has moved forward 14 days, the lectionary has not. We heard of the resurrection from Matthew two Sundays ago, last week we heard of the resurrection from John, but this week we are back to where we started, this time with Luke doing the telling. Which in this time when for many of us our days stretch on in much the same way they did the day before, it would only make sense that our worship together would stretch on in much the same way. And it makes sense in another way because it certainly doesn’t feel like Easter has reached our world yet. It feels like the tomb is still closed, and all we have is our grief. And in these long days, all we have is what we had hoped would come to be.
We had hoped to see that concert. We had hoped to take that trip. We had hoped to celebrate that birthday. We had hoped to attend that senior prom. We had hoped to celebrate that graduation. We had hoped there would be more tests. We had hoped there would be a cure. We had hoped the illness would not fall on those we know and love. We had hoped the prisoner would be set free. We had hoped not to lose our jobs. We had hoped that this time those with already the least to lose would not be the hardest hit. We had hoped she would survive. We had hoped. We had hoped. We had hoped.
Instead, we are on a journey that is full of grief and sadness and despair. We are the unnamed disciple walking with Cleopas and all we can do is talk about everything that was not to be. All we can talk about is the ways that COVID-19 has impacted our lives. The ways that it has highlighted and exacerbated the very inequities in our city, our country, our world. Because while many of us are talking about it as if it has never been experienced before, we know this great loss is not new to way too many. And this wasn’t new for Cleopas and the other disciple either. They too would have had a fairly recent memory of such death. Emmaus was a place of a great revolt following the death of Herod, and as punishment the city was burned by the Romans and 2000 rebels were crucified. So they knew what death was like. They knew what crucifixion looked like. But they hoped this time would be different. They hoped that this Jesus was the one who would redeem the world, who would put an end to all this suffering. No Jesus was just another person executed by those with power.
And now all the disciples could do was go back home and talk and talk and talk about all that they had seen and heard. All that they had hoped for but also what they had experienced. The confusion and the chaos. We are part of those conversations too. Nearly every conversation either starts or ends with COVID doesn’t it? It’s not just Groundhogs Day by our activity or inactivity as the case may be, but we are having the same conversations over and over. As if somehow this time we might make sense of all the loss, of all that we hoped for. Maybe this time, we’ll find the right words, we’ll have a better story to tell, one with a happy ending.
And into the journey, enters another fellow traveler. Only to the disbelief of the two disciples the traveler has not heard. How can this be? This grief that is so real and present. How does the traveler not know, but he doesn’t and so he invites them to tell him their story. Tell him what they had hoped for. And they lay it all out there. They tell him about this one who they had hoped was the Messiah, who was bring about their salvation. And they tell him about the crucifixion. They tell him about the tomb. And they also tell him about the story they had heard from two women who were obviously crazy about how they had found the tomb empty. But that part was just hearsay and it made no sense. No they knew the results of crucifixion. One was either dead or alive there was no in between.
And then when they had told their story, all of it, Jesus looked at them and (a) said you fools. Which I have to say, come on Jesus, Harsh! And (b) then he put their story into some context. He expanded the lens, he panned out into a broader image. Into one where a people who had suffered and been enslaved found freedom, had escaped persecution and death. He included Moses and all the other prophets. Reminded them of everything their grief had prevented them from seeing and remembering.
And then after he told his bigger story he began to walk away. And that could have been it. The disciples could have let him walk off and gone inside. But they didn't. They invited him in. They chose the option of providing hospitality and welcome. And they broke bread. I mean isn’t this just the story of our lives right now. I don’t know about you but I’m doing a lot of walking and a lot of eating. I’m going on long walks where I mull over all that is happening and I’m eating a lot. I’m baking. And many people are because stores can’t keep up with the demand for flour and yeast. And so many people are breaking bread. And it was in that fairly common, mundane, ordinary things in which Jesus was finally revealed to the disciples. After hearing the bigger story, it was in the smallest of acts in which their eyes were opened. They found Jesus on a walk. Was he wearing a mask? Was he keeping an appropriate distance? And they found him at a table. Likewise we are being invited to find Jesus at tables. But this isn’t new is it? We are a people of the table. And we have been saying come to the table not because you must but because you may. (The disciples didn’t have to invite Jesus in. Didn’t have to share a table with him.) We proclaim that at the table we will find the resurrected messiah.
But it’s hard to believe that Jesus will show up at the table, in the small things, isn’t it? Particularly in the light of so many big things. But Jesus is showing up in the small things. Jesus is showing up in the person we pass on the street whose raised eye brows signal a smile behind that mask, in the teacher who reaches out to their students who are struggling, in the Zoom worship service where we hear voices and see faces of the ones we are physically distant from, in the card sent to the one who doesn’t have access to the technology many of us take for granted, in the protester who is honking their horn to bring release to the captives, in the woman who is fasting and keeping vigil for her freedom and the safety and freedom of her children while also sewing new masks for strangers. Wherever and whenever we make room, Jesus shows up.
But we had hoped. Yes, we had. We had hoped that so many things would be different than they are right now. So many things are different than what we had hoped they would be. And the loss and the pain and the death and the grief are real. And, yet even on this lonely, isolated road, the Savior still shows up. In the smallest of things and in the smallest of ways. And then like those disciples, we are invited to go do the same. To tell the story of what we have seen and what we have experienced. To reveal the good news to those who need to hear it, that there is something other than the grief and the loss. To feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger. And we might have to find new ways to do that. When we can’t literally welcome someone into our home, to feed them at our table, how might we share the resurrection? I don't know, but I know there are ways to share the good news. And I know the story is long and this time is only a chapter, our grief and our loss might prevent us from seeing the bigger story, but it is still there. So keep walking. Keep telling the story. Keep honoring the stranger. On this Easter Sunday, Part 3, Christ is risen. He is no less risen on the road to Emmaus than he is anywhere else including here and now. So look for him. Listen for him. And when he lingers at your door, invite him in.
Photo Credit: Tim Foster on Unsplash.com