This is a version of the sermon I preached at BBUMC on April 26, 2020, the Third Lord’s Day of Easter.
The scripture passage is Luke 24:13-35.
The week before Easter, just before beginning our recorded worship, I talked briefly with one of my kids about their attire. They’d chosen a particular outfit so that, when we recorded for Easter worship, they’d have a different, special outfit to wear. Two weeks ago, on Easter, they wore that outfit. I’ve seen a couple parents from our congregation post on social media about similar conversations and memories of Easter worship attire. But this year, with worship only online, things are a little different.
So, let’s try a little experiment of distance social connecting today: if you use social media, post a picture of how you’re worshipping – maybe your attire, or the room in which you’re worshipping. If you’re worshipping through the church website, you can do this from your device while continuing to stream worship. Or, you can make the post after worship. If you don’t use social media, then you could participate in this by calling a friend after worship and talking about how you worshipped today.
As I’ve been talking to people, the experience of worshipping online is decidedly different than worshipping in person. And one of the things many of us miss is the connection we have with one another as the body of Christ. So, whether by phone or by social media, reach out to others with your “third week of Easter” worship experience.
While this is, admittedly, a little gimmicky, it also speaks to some of what we’re feeling and experiencing this week and the last few weeks. Has the last month been hard for you? Let’s list some of the challenges we may be experiencing, just to give voice to them.
- We’re recommended to stay home as much as possible to prevent or slow the spread of a highly infectious virus. This means we’re missing coffee gatherings with friends, going out to eat, and other social events that we had hoped would bring us joy, connection, and meaning. We had hoped to visit relatives.
- Students, teachers, school administrators, and families have been navigating what it means to teach and learn together at a distance. We had hoped to be together in classrooms. We had hoped to sing, dance, perform, and do life together in-person. We had hoped to celebrate the accomplishments of students as they walked across a stage in a few weeks.
- For those who work, the last month has brought changes for how we go about our daily lives in large and small ways, but all of us, even as customers, have felt the effects. We had hoped to talk to our seed and fertilizer sellers in person. We had hoped to serve the public like we always have in this season. We had been preparing for special events.
In these and other ways, this season, usually dressed in new outfits with joy and celebration and new life, is clouded in a phrase taken directly from today’s gospel passage: “we had hoped…” Cleopas, and the other disciple that, from John 19, we can infer was his wife, Mary, tell the stranger that has suddenly joined them on their walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, that “We had hoped [Jesus] was the one who would redeem Israel” (v. 21). But, alas, here they are, on Easter morning, the first day of the week after Jesus was crucified, hightailing it out of Jerusalem. They’d heard that the tomb was empty. Some had said they’d seen angels who said Jesus was alive, but still, Cleopas and Mary were leaving town. Everything that had been normal and expected had changed in their lives. They’d journeyed with Jesus, they’d hoped for his mission of redemption, of reordering the world, but that hope now seemed like something from long ago. We can feel this too. We had hoped.
But this stranger speaks into their lives in ways that begin to fan the flame of hope again. Shaking his head in disgust, he helps them remember the message of all of scripture as they know it.
- He reminds them that God’s mission has always been to reveal God’s presence and blessing to the world through people like them.
- He reminds them that God repeatedly brings order to chaos, life from the ashes of ruin, and healing to wounds too deep for words.
And later, they’ll remember their walking lessons and proclaim that their “hearts were on fire” within them when they heard his teaching (v.32).
As Cleopas and Mary arrive at their destination, where food and lodging was waiting for them, they invite this stranger to stay with them. It was late after all, far past the time for travelling alone on the road. While they were at table, the stranger did something familiar: he took bread, gave thanks to God as a table blessing, broke the bread, and shared it with Cleopas, Mary, and presumably, others. In that moment, Luke tells us, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight” (v. 31).
Jesus revealed himself through the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread, just as he had done repeatedly in feeding multitudes, and as the disciples had seen in his last meal before his death. To a people who had hoped, but whose hopes were surely and completely crushed, Jesus fills Cleopas and Mary with hope so that they can begin living into a new normal – life inspired by Jesus’ resurrection. Filled with hope, they race off to tell the other disciples that they have seen the risen Lord.
For us, whose hopes have been similarly dashed, the story of the walk to Emmaus reminds us that Jesus enters our lives to give us hope, so that we can journey into a new normal. Cleopas and Mary discovered Jesus through the ordinary practices of their lives: in walking, in talking about scripture, and in sharing table fellowship. Today, I invite us to approach our everyday practices with hope and expectation that Jesus enters our lives and fills us with hope through these ordinary things.
In the high school Zoom conversation this past week, we agreed to this challenge: let’s try to tweak our everyday practices so as to invite God’s presence into them. Here are some examples we came up with.
- When we’re washing our hands, and to ensure we’re washing long enough, let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer, or some other prayer about Jesus washing us of sin and giving us a new life.
- When we’re sitting down to eat, let’s receive each thing we’re eating as though Jesus has raised it up, blessed it, and shared it with us. We can do this in our heads with each bite.
- When we’re walking or working outside, with every wisp of wind, we can pray, “Spirit of God, breathe in me.”
- When we read scripture daily, we can invite Jesus, “Here I am, Jesus. Help me see you through these words.”
I’m not sure how long this social and physical distancing with distance discipling is going to be our new normal. But for now, it is our normal. Cleopas and Mary weren’t sure what they’d find after they arrived in Jerusalem, but they were sure of one thing: Jesus is risen and is with them.
So too can we find hope for this season of abnormal normal in our Easter proclamation: Jesus is risen, Jesus is with us, Jesus is alive. Jesus’ empty tomb and his presence on the road to Emmaus proclaim that nothing, not death, not a tomb, not physical distancing, can separate us from God’s love, God’s presence, and God’s mission of bring all creation into relationship with God.
Jesus shows up to his disciples, filling them with hope so that they can live into a new normal of life in God’s presence through ordinary practices like these. Sometimes we complicate the spiritual life. Sometimes we make faith something that we only do on Sundays, when we’re in church, when we’re dressed up special. But Jesus shows up and fills us with hope through our everyday practices, so that we can live with hope in the midst of a new normal. Jesus transforms our “had hopes” into present reality and future hopes. May it be so.