April 26, 2020

The Second Sunday after Easter

Scripture Reading: Luke 24: 13-35

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Footnotes:

  1. Luke 24:13 Gk sixty stadia; other ancient authorities read a hundred sixty stadia
  2. Luke 24:17 Other ancient authorities read walk along, looking sad?”
  3. Luke 24:19 Other ancient authorities read Jesus the Nazorean
  4. Luke 24:21 Or to set Israel free
  5. Luke 24:26 Or the Christ
  6. Luke 24:32 Other ancient authorities lack within us


Sermon:

One of the first things we need to remember as we hear these verses is that everything takes place on the very first Easter Sunday.

Cleophas and his friend on the road to Emmaus new all about what the women who had gone to the tomb that morning reported. It should have been good news, but it wasn’t. Why not?

Cleophas and his friend were unwilling to embrace anything other than their loss and their grief. When that stranger joined them on the walk and asked them what was wrong, the floodgates opened.

Jesus’ death shattered their hopes, they said. Everything they thought true wasn’t. They wanted to go back to their old normal, but now nothing could ever be the same again.

So, they trudged down the road to Emmaus, a journey that should only take a few hours but lasted the better part of a day. It may as well have been called the road to despair and hopelessness because that’s what it really was.

And we know exactly how they felt, don’t we?

This Friday, The New York Times published a story whose title said it all: “March, April, May: City’s Mood Darkens As Crisis Feels Endless.”

The reporter, Michael Wilson, said that New York’s “can-do resilience has given way to resignation and random tears.”

“This is the week where I feel like I have accepted this, and given up,” one New York resident wrote to him.

“I have accepted this and given up.”

That’s an example of what psychologists call “learned helplessness.” It happens when someone continually faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to change their circumstances, even when they can.

They start blaming themselves when things go wrong. They think their troubles will never end, and that there’s no escaping them.

The way out, psychologists say, is an “optimistic explanatory style.” That means to stop blaming yourself, see trying or troubled times as only temporary and tied to a specific situation.

Jesus, as he joined Cleophas and his companion on the road, had an optimistic explanatory lifestyle.

After patiently listening to Cleophas and his friends lay out their troubles, something which they very much needed to do, Jesus retold the story of the last few days in a new way.

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have declared! Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

 

Jesus wove Cleophas and his friend’s stories into his. He helped them find their place in a story that spanned centuries as well as all of scripture, a story of redemption, hope, and divine love.

Later, the two of them would remember how their hearts “burned.” It’s the kind of feeling we get when we not only hear the truth, but know we’re hearing the truth.

That came later. They still didn’t get it, not at first. Then, when Jesus blessed, broke, and shared bread with them, everything changed.

They “got up,” Luke says, using the same Greek verb used to describe Jesus’ resurrection.

They got up and went back down the road to Jerusalem, hurrying this time. The journey that once took a day now took hours.

Cleophas and his friend would never go back to their old normal. The road to Emmaus, rather than leading to despair and hopelessness, opened up a new future.

It was a future whose bounds and power and presence would challenge them and all who walked down Emmaus roads of their own.

That includes us. A lot of people are asking when things will get back to “normal.” I hope they don’t and never will. But I’m afraid they could.

Ted Rall, writing in the Los Angeles Progressive, reminds us what our old normal looked like.

A few weeks ago, he writes, tens of thousands of New Yorkers were sleeping head to toe in dormitory style shelters for the homeless.

The shelters were incubators for COVID-19, so New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio invited the homeless to move out of the shelters and off the streets into some of the city’s 100,000 vacant hotel rooms at city expense. New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco did the same.

What happens if so-called “normal” times come back? Tourism will kick in. Hotels will fill up. And people who really “matter” will need these rooms and pay top dollar for them.

The homeless will end up back on the streets or warehoused in crowded, nasty shelters. With an average life expectancy of fifty, they’ll die sad and alone, their bodies dumped into mass graves alongside the unclaimed victims of the pandemic.

COVID-19 made us appreciate a new class of heroes, the workers in hospitals, nursing homes, and daycares, those who prepare food, deliver mail, stock shelves, and drive trucks. Some grocery chains are now offering hazardous duty pay.

If the old normal returns, will that appreciation last? Or will corporations go back to cutting salaries and benefits while increasing work hours, all to give investors a good return and pay top executives outrageous salaries?

No longer heroes, those who care for the weak and infirm, who make our dinners, deliver our stuff, and stock our shelves, will go back to the old normal without a thank you.

The old normal should stay buried in our pre-COVID past. We should use the lessons of this time and move into the future God will work with us to build, if we’re ready to listen and able to follow.

Can we hang onto the blue skies and broadened vistas many cities now enjoy, treasuring clean air we’d forgotten we’d lost?

Can we reward those who work at jobs vital to society’s well-being, jobs that, to this point, were underpaid as well as underappreciated?

Can we expand broadband coverage, ending the inequalities exposed by COVID, so that the educational opportunities Internet access makes possible are available to every student?

Will we learn to treasure each other, and appreciate the power there is in simply being together?

Cleophas and his friend didn’t know their eyes were closed until Jesus broke bread and opened them. It’s like that for us, mired as we are in the learned hopelessness of quarantine, of anger and fear.

We can’t go back to what we used to call “normal.” Instead, we have to focus on our Easter hope, and on the stubborn, strong conviction of our faith.

So many things are different now than we’d hoped they’d be. Still, the stranger who is our Savior meets us on the lonely road to Emmaus.

The one who starts out as our guest will become our host, feeding us and sustaining us with his presence, with the power of the Word, and with shared, broken bread.

So, for now, scattered though we may be, we keep walking. We keep telling the story. We keep honoring the stranger. We keep close, careful watch for those times when our heart burns with conviction and faith.

 Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. He is no less risen on the road to Emmaus than he is anywhere else. So look for him. After all, he’s looking for you.