Sunday, April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Prayer of the Day
O God, your Son makes himself known to all his disciples in the breaking of bread. Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in his redeeming work, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Acts 2:14a, 36-41 Receiving God’s promise through baptism
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23 Born anew through the living word of God
Luke 24:13-35 Eating with the risen Christ
Title: The Reality of Lost Hope
Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
As challenging to believable as this whole resurrection story might be for some people, one of the touchstones of reality, one of the validating elements, one of the confirming pieces of evidence for me, is the honesty of those first witnesses. Or, to elaborate, the brutal, self-effacing, self-incriminating honesty of those first witnesses.
It was bold enough for those disciples to be honest about their confusion and confoundedness while Jesus was traveling the countryside and teaching his world-changing message about the grace and mercy of God. Sure, it certainly would have been unbelievable if they had shown themselves to be perfect students. Getting all of this mind-bending, heart-transforming, soul-lifting material right off the bat. But even here, I appreciate their honesty in their accounts of asking clue-less questions and displaying their own, at times comical, confusion.
But by the time of the passion, they have been following Jesus and learning from him. They have heard him talk about his own death and even reference his resurrection. Hard things to hear, but they did hear them. And yet they are shocked and surprised by the events of his passion and death. They are confused by what happens at the last supper. They are so ill-prepared for his arrest that they are quick to desert and deny him.
However, nothing can compare with the reality and frank honesty of how they show themselves blundering through the resurrection and the events that followed. Think about it. If they were making this stuff up, they might have shown themselves more faithful, promoting themselves and their loyalty and dedication to this movement that they were continuing in Jesus name. Describing pictures of themselves gathered before the tomb, trustingly waiting for the great moment when his promise of return was realized. And if that were too ideal of a picture, at least they would have been gathered in prayer anticipating his re-joining them. But these are not the stories told by those witnesses whose message we continue to hear, carry, pass along, and live.
Two weeks ago, we saw Mary immediately thinking the body was stolen (not risen) and then talking to Jesus and not even knowing that it was him. And Peter and the other disciple seeing the empty tomb and then high-tailing it back home, not even sticking around to see if, just possibly if, his resurrection predictions had come to pass. Then, of course, we had last week’s episode. As we heard, it is still THAT day, but it was evening and the disciples were not out looking for Jesus after hearing from Mary that she has seen him. But instead, they were hiding, frightened in a room, (perhaps it is the same room where the last supper had been shared just three nights earlier). Jesus appears to them and we’re not told they immediately rejoice. No, he must show them his wounds before they are able to take this in, recognize him, and then rejoice. And, then there was Thomas with his honest doubts about what they experienced.
And now today’s episode. From Luke this time. We have heard that much loved story of the Emmaus road encounter. It is still that first day. That day of resurrection. And two followers. Not part of the 11, but followers of Jesus still. These two are so confused, at such a loss of hope, that they are leaving the city. Not leaving after the heartbreak of the crucifixion and death; but they are leaving, running away after the reports of the resurrection have started to circulate. They tell this stranger on the road that they were astounded by the reports of the women. Astounded. Confused. Amazed. Wouldn’t they have looked better, more impressive, more faithful and trusting if the story passed down was that they heard the story of the women and they immediately embraced the news of Jesus’ resurrection and they believed? That the party started then and there? And then he appeared and joined in. That’s how I would want people to remember me. But no, we get these most honest and real stories of fear, confusion, doubt, and today’s, which is perhaps the most refreshing and reassuring in its truthfulness. For this is how people, real people, act and react when all hope is lost. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” As we come to this story this year, at this time, perhaps we understand a little deeper about what it means to lose hope. To have our hope so disappointed. Our lists are long and growing, aren’t they? Everything from hoping to travel to hoping to be present with a dying loved one. From hoping to worship together for Holy Week and Easter to hoping to console one another at a proper funeral service. Hoping to gather for celebrations or just hoping to meet a friend for coffee. Hopes of concerts, parades, and theatre. Hopes of having a wonderful senior year with prom and graduation to college students hoping to have a proper end to such a significant period of their formation. Probably should stop there. Listing the loses could really depress us.
But going back to the realness of those witnesses. Beyond passing along the glorious story of Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps that most compassionate and helpful thing that ever did for us – the future generations of witnesses – was to tell that story with all their honesty, all their confused, doubt-filled, hope-lost honesty. For they knew as well as anyone, maybe on a deeper level, what it meant to have hopes dashed. To see dreams crumble. To experience crushing disappointment. And they knew that it was for times like these, that their story, their real story, their honest story, needed to be told and retold.
Not only did they know how hard it would be to hear and believe this story of the dead rising to live again. But they also knew that this faith, this trust, this hope in the power of the risen Christ, in the newness of life that is ours in him, would be tested over and over again in this world of such chaos and roughhouse.
Thanks be to God, that we don’t get some sanitized story where two on the road see Jesus and drop to his feet and worship him. Instead we get two running away from what should be good news and foundations for hope. We get two so despondent that they cannot bring themselves to look and see the risen Christ standing before them. Instead they can only look at the dust into which they think their hopes have been dashed. We get two disregarding the good news being told to them, unable to embrace it and live it. They have surrendered, given up, and they are retreating into hopelessness. Oh, how we can relate to them, to their reaction, to their running, their down-turned eyes, their stopped ears, their heavy hearts, their resignation, their surrender.
And Jesus meets them on the road that they are on. He does not stay in Jerusalem waiting for them to come to their senses, regain the hope that he had promised them, reclaim the trust that they should have. No, he meets them in all their resignation and their retreat. And Jesus is patient with them as they still do not see that it is him talking to them, consoling with stories of the past pointing to the promise of the present. Finally, enough is awakened in them through the Holy Spirit, a seed of hope is planted in them, such that they beg this wise and comforting stranger to stay with them. And as he takes and blesses the bread, they see it is Jesus, risen and alive. In that moment, in that action of breaking bread, they are reminded of the tables he had hosted throughout his ministry and his travels, the welcome that he had extended to outcasts and sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes; they see the one who had promised to be present in the breaking of the bread. And they believe. So, they run back to tell the others. And they tell us. Stories of new hope and new life are shared in the name of the risen Christ.
We come to the table whether distraught, disappointed, or despondent, whether resigned, retreating, or regretful. And we see our hope reborn in the breaking of the bread, in the presence of the risen Christ who joins us wherever we are, whatever the road, whatever the locked room, whatever the lost hope.
In faith, we join with all the witnesses of the resurrection, in all our frailties and failings, our confusions and our doubts, with hope renewed and life restored, we live and we shout
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,