Given April 26, 2020 – The Third Sunday of Easter
- Acts 2:14a; 2:36-47 or Isaiah 43:1-12
- Psalm 116:10-17
- 1 Peter 1:13-25
- Luke 24:13-35
In our gospel reading today we are walking with two disciples: one is named Cleopas, the other possibly his wife, named Mary. A couple who are disciples of Jesus, walking from Jerusalem to a village 7 miles away called Emmaus – walking home after the Passover celebrations. But they were not in a celebratory mood. This husband and wife were talking together, discussing the events that they had just witnessed, grieving, consoling, and wondering about the news they have just received.
Jesus of Nazareth was given over to his enemies, condemned to death, and was crucified. A man they saw as a prophet, who healed many, and taught a message that brought hope, hope for redemption, hope for deliverance. But alas, their hopes are dashed.
It is not too dissimilar to our current crisis. We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. But many people’s hopes are failing. Many are wondering how they can pay the bills. Others are wondering if they will have a job, a home, or the means to feed their families after this crisis is over. There are some people saying the worse is yet to come. A second wave of infections, a crashed economy, millions unemployed. Hope seems lost.
It is good we are hearing this story today of two disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the Emmaus road. Often this story is used in meditations and devotions for grief and lament. This couple’s hopes were dashed, they were lost, did not know what the future held. They felt like there was no comfort, no salvation, they were stuck in their oppression.
But when all seemed lost, here comes Jesus walking up behind them, catching up to them, listening with loving ears of their grief and hopelessness.
It is normally at the end our ropes that we encounter God. When all hopes seems lost Jesus comes walking up beside us. Remember his words, “I am with you always, even until the end of the world!” He is there to walk with us through our grief, our sorrow, our hopelessness. Even to guide us, to show us that hope is not all lost, that there is deliverance from our struggles.
“What is it you are talking about?” Jesus asks. Cleopas and Mary pour out their hearts to Jesus, not knowing who he was. They tell him that Jesus of Nazareth was a mighty prophet, put to death, and buried three days ago. Then amazingly this morning witnesses found the tomb empty!
Jesus says to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken!” Then Jesus begins with Moses and all the prophets and explains the secrets of the kingdom now revealed in Jesus Christ.
Jesus expounds the Scriptures from the Old Testament to Cleopas and Mary, Scriptures that told the story of God’s redemption for the world. He spoke of the hope and how it was all brought about in the man the couple named as Jesus of Nazareth.
We did not have an Old Testament reading today. However, our lectionary has an alternative reading that can be chosen. Instead of Acts 2, we had the option to read Isaiah 43:1-12. Here are some of what is said in this passage:
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Fear not, for I am with you;
I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.”
Portions of Isaiah 43:1-12 ESV
So, people of God, you will pass through this crisis, you will get through this heartache, you will walk through this calamity. Why?
Because the Lord has created you O’ son
Because the Lord has formed you O’ daughter
You’ve nothing to fear, for he has redeemed you
Not with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ
He has called you by name!
When you pass through a pandemic, Jesus will be with you
Circumstances come at you, you will not be overwhelmed
When you walk through joblessness, homelessness, sickness, and turmoil, it will not consume you.
For Jesus, Jesus the Christ, is your Lord, your savior – trust in him, be loyal to him.
Our hopes may be dashed, we may lose loved ones, we may lose our homes, our cars, our jobs, even our very lives. And God says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
Jesus called the couple foolish and slow of heart. We too can be foolish and slow of heart. Not because we are stupid, but because we are often blinded by how our lives fit into the story of Jesus. We believed we had it all figured out – we come to church, we read our Bibles, we pray, we witness our neighbors. This has been working fine. But what happens when the world is turned upside down? What happens when we cannot gather for church? What do we do when we can’t witness face to face? We must reevaluate how our lives fit into the story of Jesus.
This is why Peter said, “[prepare] your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ… conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…”
This stay-at-home order is a form of exile – we have been displaced from our workplaces, our schools, our stores, our churches, our families. Peter says during our exile we need to remember that we are redeemed.
We need not to give up but to continue to live holy lives. What does it mean to be holy? The word means, to be set apart, consecrated, dedicated. This means in this world we need to act like we really are citizens of the kingdom of God. We should not let the news or the media tell us how to think, how to react, what to be outraged about.
The media will spew fear and anxiety at you when God says, “Fear not!” What kind of things are you sharing on social media? Are you spreading the same fear and anxiety, sharing posts, speculating on conspiracies, inciting hatred for the other political party or our leaders? Or are you acting like a citizen of the kingdom by sharing encouraging posts, trying to ease fears, praying for people, and our leaders?
During our time of exile, we need to continue to love one another. In times of crisis and fear, it is extremely easy to demonize those who disagree with you. Everyone on the other side turns into a villain that needs to be defeated. This is understandable, as there are elements and variables that are life and death in this crisis.
But brothers and sisters, why do we do this amongst ourselves? Why do we draw lines and pick sides in this crisis? We need to come together, not actually, but spiritually, and love one another. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt that everyone wants what is best for everyone. Here is a crazy thought, in humility count others MORE significant than yourself! Let all of us not look to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)
Thirdly, in our exile we are to live through the living and abiding word of God – that is Jesus Christ.
After Pentecost, the disciples moved into the story of Jesus together. It says in Acts they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. They did this meeting in the temple, by meeting from house to house daily, seeing each other in unity, with one mindset on Jesus and his kingdom.
But how do we do this in our time of crisis? With our modern technology, we have tools to help with each of these elements: apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. With the miracle of the printing press printed Bibles are available that contain the apostles’ teachings. With computers and smartphones, we have access to electronic books and apps we can access the Bible in various translations and languages. Through media and video, we have access to sermons, bible studies, church services in whatever flavor you may like.
Prayer can be a “do-it-yourself” kind of activity. We also have books, apps, and websites that are devoted to helping you pray – the Book of Common Prayer being one of them.
For fellowship, you can make a phone call, video phone, online meetings, social media, and the like.
Even for the breaking of bread, we have an alternative, the prayer of spiritual communion. Some have even attempted to partake of communion with others over video phone.
With all of our modern technologies, the good things it brings: it allows us to continue to be the Church in a different way. It allows us to continue as the apostles had done, albeit in a modern online version. And the Lord will bless us with this, walk alongside of us, and bring us closer to him, closer to each other, as we walk in faith, hope, and love.
But these are just substitutes that allow us to continue to be the Church in times of crisis. It cannot replace the Church. We look forward to the day when we all can safely come together. Let us not forget that we are flesh and blood, that our Lord took on this same flesh to have fellowship with us; that we need to be together, worship together, and partake of the Eucharist together.
Back on the road with Cleopas and Mary they near Emmaus, their destination. They come to their house and Jesus acts as if he were going further. But they urge him, “Don’t go, stay. It is late in the day”. They recline at the table, bringing out bread to eat. Jesus picks up the bread, just like he had done with his 12 disciples four days earlier, and blessing it, he broke it, giving it to Cleopas and Mary.
At that moment, at the breaking of the bread, as Jesus was giving the bread to Cleopas and Mary, their eyes were opened! This was Jesus of Nazareth, the mighty prophet, who had redeemed Israel that day!
It was at the breaking of the bread that Jesus is revealed to this married couple. It is in the breaking of the bread that Jesus is revealed to us! When this crisis is over, and it looks like it will be soon, let us not forsake the coming together, the breaking of bread together. Let us come and fellowship with each other, and our fellowship is with the Father, and his son Jesus, our Lord.