Walking into Resurrection

+ A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on April 26, 2020 +

Texts: Luke 24:13-35

Video: LINK

It’s now been just over a month since Governor Inslee instituted his “Stay Home – Stay Healthy” proclamation, by which he ordered Washington residents to stay indoors except for essential business or employment.
While most of us had already been practicing social distancing for some weeks by then, many people, myself included, were a little apprehensive about what this order would mean for our daily lives.
I admit that I was very relieved when I read that the governor’s proclamation included a specific exception for “engaging in outdoor exercise activities, such as walking, hiking, running or biking” assuming appropriate distancing, of course.
In fact, he proclaimed that these activities are “essential business” and frankly, I could not agree more.

pexels-photo-591216Walking, running, just being outside has been absolutely essential to me during these past few weeks.
I’ve long used walks and runs and hikes to clear my mind, to process things I need to work out, and to help write more than a few sermons.
And most of the time, I notice my mood improve.
Getting out in fresh air, stretching my legs, burning off some pent-up energy helps me feel better.
And especially in these past few weeks, I’ve needed that more than ever.
With all the stress I’ve been experiencing, the grief I’ve been carrying, the uncertainty in the news, I don’t think a single day has passed without some sort of outdoor activity.
Going on walks with my dog Alki, going on walks with my husband Ryan, going on walks alone—anything to keep me going, to lower my stress levels, to feel the sunshine or rain on my skin, to let my heart beat normally again and remind myself that the world is bigger than my apartment.

One of my preacher friends reminded me this week that “there’s a long history of using walks to process trauma and pain. In many ways,” she writes, “that’s what [protest] marches are. When something is not right, when something awful happens, people are compelled to get out of their homes and to move. These marches are sometimes to nowhere in particular, or sometimes to a place with particular meaning or significance. But it is the journeying, the moving that is most important.”[1]

Maybe you’ve been doing something similar.
Sometimes it seems like that’s all we can do these days—just keep moving.
Moving into the future, moving together forward into the unknown.
A little act of defiance that reminds us that we are still alive, that we can still care for ourselves, that we can and must keep moving however we can.

“Road to Emmaus” by Daniel Bonnell

I wonder if that is what inspired those two disciples to start walking to Emmaus.
Our gospel reading doesn’t tell us why they journeyed, but I feel like I understand.
After such a long time of following Jesus, they had just witnessed his torture and crucifixion.
The trauma and the pain still raw in their bodies and their souls.
And they had just spent a horrific few days locked away in that upper room, wrapped in fear that they could be next—that if they weren’t careful they might find themselves on a cross.
So, they started walking.
Maybe they were going home feeling defeated.
Maybe they were trying to process their grief together so they could move into the future.
Maybe they were just trying to move.
But on their long, slow, sorrowful walk, they encounter the risen Christ.

Now, I admit, with the way our lectionary is working this year, it may be tough to follow this Easter story we’ve been telling.
This is our Third Sunday of Easter and on each Sunday we have now heard three separate resurrection accounts from three separate gospel writers.
On Easter Sunday, we heard Matthew’s version full of earthquakes and angels and Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary that first resurrection morning.
Last week we heard John’s account of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples in the locked room on Easter evening and coming again the following week, allowing Thomas to see him and touch him.
But today we hear a different version of the story.
Today we from Luke’s gospel with its unique perspective.
In Luke’s version, there is no appearance of Christ that morning and the disciples openly scoff at the women’s story of an empty tomb and angels.
Instead, this is the first appearance of the risen Christ in Luke’s gospel—not to Mary, not to Peter, not to anyone we have ever heard of before.
It’s to these two previously unknown disciples, Cleopas and another whose name we don’t even know, along a lonely road to a long-forgotten village called Emmaus.
It’s to these nobodies in the middle of nowhere that the resurrection is first realized, that the Risen Christ is first made known.

From Anglican Parish of Aspley-Albany Creek, Queensland (https://aspley-albanycreek.org.au/easter-2019-choices-jesus-makes/the-road-to-emmaus/)

But the disciples don’t recognize him, do they?
And again, we don’t know why.
Maybe their grief is dulling their senses.
Maybe resurrection changed Jesus.
Maybe, like so many of us are these days, Jesus was wearing a mask that covered his face.
We don’t know.
But Jesus comes alongside them and walks with them.
He listens to them. Listens to their fears, their grief, their cries.
And, oh what he hears!

“We had hoped,” these grieving disciples lament, “that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel.”
We had hoped.
This is probably the most heartbreaking statement in the gospels—perhaps in the whole Bible.
We had hoped that Jesus would change things.
We had hoped that he would liberate us from our oppressors and set our people free.
We had hoped that he would finally make things right.
Instead, we saw him die.
Instead our hope is gone.

We had hoped.
It’s a line that hit me hard this year.
Though, honestly, this line hits me hard every time I read this, my favorite gospel story.
It’s a line that resonates across the years, doesn’t it?
A road of grief and despair we have all walked at some point in our lives.
But it resonated a little differently this year and I can’t help thinking of my own broken hopes due to the coronavirus.
I can’t help thinking of the broken hopes I’ve heard from the laments of my friends and family.
We had hoped
We had hoped we could go on our long-planned vacation.
We had hoped to have a real graduation.
We had hoped to have our dream wedding this summer.
We had hoped to retire this year.
We had hoped to keep our job.
We had hoped to see our loved one just one more time after she went into the hospital.
We had hoped to be back together by now, worshiping together in person, back in our sanctuary together celebrating Christ’s resurrection.

And yet, right there in their grief, right there in their journeys, right there in their lost hope, that’s where Easter breaks in.
This is an Easter story, remember?
Right there among these two unknown disciples, right there on that unknown wilderness road, that’s where the promise of the resurrection takes root and blossoms.

Jesus listens to their laments and cries; he holds their pain and grief with them.
And then he does something else—he kindles a fire within them—a fire only he could ignite.
An ember of new hope.
A flame of resiliency.
He reminds his grieving disciples of God’s promises to God’s people throughout history, promises that are meant for them—and for you and for me.
A promise that God is walking with us.
A promise that we have not been abandoned to the lost hope of Good Friday.
A promise that Christ is ever traveling our journeys with us ready to burn through our grief and isolation and set our hearts ablaze with the new life of resurrection.

Way back at the start of our online services seven weeks ago, when we heard the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, I made a point in my sermon to remind us that Christ is with us through it all, that he is coming among us to bring us healing and new life.
And that is most certainly true, not only when we are feeling isolated, but always.
Christ is always with us.
But we are missing some of our usual ways of recognizing his presence, aren’t we?
We’re missing our regular worship experience.
We’re missing our joyful hugs with loved ones.
And even with our essential outdoor activities, we’re still missing getting to go on real hikes and see God’s handiwork in mountain vistas.
Regardless, we are told that Christ is here with us…and we at least try to remember that.

Maximino Cerezo Barredo (Spanish, 1932–), Emmaus, 2002. Painted mural, 200 × 190 cm. Dining room of the Centro de Formación de Animadores, Gatun Lake, Panama.

But this gospel story reminds me that sometimes we need help seeing him.
Even these two disciples who had walked with Jesus, who had listened to his teachings, who surely had eaten with him couldn’t recognize Christ’s presence among them as he walked the road with them.
Not until they had welcomed him into their home, after he sat down at table with them, and broke the bread and shared it with them.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe that while we can encounter God in a myriad of ways in so many places, God assures us that we can encounter Christ most clearly in the sacraments—in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
And while we believe that Jesus is the host and guest at all of our tables and every meal we share, there is something different about the meal we share together at the Lord’s Table.
That’s why we’re trying something different today—inviting Jesus to be with us in our homes as we celebrate Communion with him and each other, distant though we are.
We invite Jesus to come among us, come into our homes, come alongside us in our journeys and our griefs, and be made known to us in the breaking of the bread as he was at Emmaus as we look into each other’s eyes and say, “This is the Body of Christ, given for you.”

I must admit that I’ve had a difficult time seeing Christ in the past few weeks.
Perhaps you’ve been more successful than me, but while I tell myself that Christ is here, I can’t always see him like I usually do.
I haven’t always seen him at my table eating my quarantine cuisine creations.
I haven’t always seen him journeying beside me in my daily outdoor adventures.
I definitely haven’t seen him in the face of a stranger getting too close to me on my walks or in the grocery store.
So perhaps this is the resurrection story we need this year—I think it’s the one I’ve been needing.
No dramatic earthquakes or angels.
No miraculous appearance in a locked room.
None of the usual trappings of Easter.
Just Cleopas and that unnamed disciple, a role that seems tailor-made for you and me.
Just a couple disciples journeying through their own grief and the resurrected Jesus coming among them and walking alongside them.
Just the laments of dashed hopes and broken dreams and Christ bringing the new and resilient hope of the resurrection.
Just a few people sitting down to a simple meal and suddenly, in a simple act of hospitality, seeing their risen Lord sitting among them.

And in the reminder that our hopes are not in vain, in the assurance that our griefs can be born in the new life of the resurrection, whenever we can glimpse Christ by our sides and in our homes and at our table, we can see the promise of Easter that bursts into our lives.
We can feel the fire of Christ’s love burning in our hearts.
We can rush back onto the road, not to process our pain but because we can’t contain our joy and have to share it with the whole world.

So keep walking, my friends.
Keep telling the stories of God’s promises for us.
Keep feeling your hearts burn with God’s love.
Keep looking for Christ as you walk and eat and share.
Keep looking for this new hope that is coming to join you on the road so we can rush with joy and defiantly proclaim that glad proclamation we need now more than ever:
Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Vicar Elle Dowd serves at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, Chicago, IL

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