Sermon by Rev. Kim Priddy, Associate Pastor: Missions & Community
Some of you have probably experienced an elevated heart rate, sweaty armpits, and/or been nervous when a small child wants to ask a theological question of you?
When I was a children’s minister earlier in my career, my biggest challenge was finding children’s Sunday school teachers who were willing to overcome their fear of faith questions from our young people. Most adults thought that a seminary degree would be required to enter that holy space with children.
We know that children have grand imaginations and when they hear biblical stories, it sparks all kinds of thoughts and questions. But, I believe it is that childlike faith that Jesus talked about with the disciples when he invited the children to come- that kind of faith he desires to see in all of us.
I was never afraid of the questions about why the grass was green or the sky was carolina blue. Bring on the questions of birds and bees (because you always refer those back to the parents). I was pretty confident that I could explain God’s love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but the question that would cause my heart to race was “Where do we see Jesus/ God?” knowing that children look for a concrete answers. Our children take in images of Jesus from children’s bibles that have beautiful pictorials, from stained-glass windows and mosaics, and from how we describe him in scripture. I remember from my church growing up seeing a picture of Jesus hanging in our Sunday School class, he wore a white robe, brown sandals, had long hair and perfectly blushed cheeks.
It is vital for us share our faith with children and help them to learn to sense Jesus’ presence in their life. Often I would describe Jesus’ presence among us as the wind. I would tell children that we can feel the wind and see what the wind does, but that wind is hard to see by itself. I prayed that this and other answers of Jesus’ presence among us would speak to their faith.
And may we have that same kind of imagination and faith as we enter our story today keeping in mind our desire to sense the closeness and presence of Jesus in our own journey.
We jump into our scripture in the middle of the final chapter of the Gospel of Luke, but Luke helps us here by using the words “Now on this day”… the story continues and connects us to what has just occurred. Two of them are walking away from Jerusalem discussing all the things that had happened. We are given the name of one of them, Cleopas, and the second traveler goes un-named, as if the anonymity by Luke is inviting each of us into the story.
We are told the two travelers are heading to the village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. I imagine that their hearts were heavier than any supplies that they were carrying. Before this time they had heard the powerful preaching of Jesus to thousands; his words stirring and astonishing them all. Personal interviews had taken place and questions had been answered by him. Hundreds and maybe thousands of miracles had happened. He had replaced sickness with health whenever suffering ones had come or been brought to him. The very winds and waves obeyed the prophet who was going to redeem them. So when did this journey to Emmaus happen?
It happened a week after he had raised Lazarus from the dead. It happened after years of exposure to his extraordinary life; it happened after they had experienced years of his strong love for them. Their steps towards Emmaus were steps away from broken dreams and hopes.
I try to imagine if our travelers had their heads down walking real slow or maybe clicking along at a rather quick pace and glancing behind, making sure to get out of the reach of trouble. They were heading back to their pre-Jesus lives.
Then we are told that “15 Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Whether it was a literary device by the gospel writer or the way in which Jesus wanted to have impromptu bible study with these two travelers, I can appreciate them not recognizing Jesus. Most of us have had that trouble since we were kids with our own questions about the presence of Jesus. Jesus was not readily identified at other times. For instance, Jesus was not recognized when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning. Instead of recognizing Jesus, she first mistook Him for the gardener (John 20:15). A second time in which Jesus was not immediately recognized was when the disciples were out fishing (John 21:4)“Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”
And now he is not recognized by our travelers on the way to Emmaus.
Which provides a bit of irony that they do not recognize Jesus, (and yes we are told they are prevented from recognizing him) but then Cleopas suggests that Jesus is the “only stranger in Jerusalem” who doesn’t know what has happened there. Jesus responds to what he has heard and he asks “What things?” and begins to rebuke them a bit. Then he takes the opportunity to take their experiences and expand on them.
Their response to the request for information presents their understanding of the crucifixion as the frustration of the high hopes that had been inspired by Jesus. He was a prophet; his death had not changed this conviction. The disciples had hoped that he was the Messiah. And they conceived the mission of the Messiah to be the redemption of Israel from its control by Rome. To them, therefore, his death signified that he was not Israel’s redeemer, but Jesus reminds them of scripture and expounds the necessity of suffering as a prelude to glory.
I love the fact that they are telling Jesus everything that had happened to him. And as we listen in on this conversation, it is not difficult for us to recognize their diminishing hope as we hear these words come from Cleopas’ lips “But we had hoped…”
Human hope is a fragile thing, and when it withers, it’s difficult to revive. Their hope could not even be brought back with the testimony of events from that morning. The scripture reads “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.”
Disappointment is a reality. I have heard folks utter the words “We had hoped” when addiction returns; “We had hoped” when a job goes away; “We had hoped” when a marriage comes to an end; “We had hoped” when there is a negative result on a pregnancy test; “We had hoped” when our dreams are simply not to be.
Many of you have been praying for my stepmother and family as she has walked her journey with sickness from cancer. Her name was placed on our covenant of concerns and I can feel your prayers. I loved taking her the prayer shawl knitted by the hands and hearts of our faith community. Your kindness has been overwhelming and I always appreciate you asking me how she is getting along. We have been hopeful that the chemo treatment would cure her and restore her health. We have been hopeful that we would have more time together, more family celebrations, but that is not to be. Yesterday we moved her into Beacon Place and under the care of Hospice. Our hopes are fragile, our hopes now are for as many good days as we can get and to make the most of the time we have here together. We hope that she will feel the love of family and friends and feel the presence of Jesus in this journey.
My hope and your hope allows us to lean into the freedom, peace, grace, mercy and love that is offered to us in a resurrected Christ.
I appreciate what author Tom Wright of the commentary: Luke for Everyone suggest to do with Cleopas’ puzzled statement and his belief that if Jesus had been the one to redeem Israel, he surely would have defeated the pagans, not dying at their hands. Wright suggest that the statement only needs the slightest twist to turn it into a joyful statement of early Christian faith: ‘They crucified him- but we had hoped he would redeem Israel’ —as going to become—, “They crucified him- and that was the way he did redeem Israel.” And it was, of course, the resurrection that had made the difference.”
As part of the seminary experience, I signed up for CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education which meant 400 hours serving as a hospital chaplain at Baptist Hospital. Serving as a chaplain was very awkward because I like to spend time getting to know folks before providing pastoral care and as a hospital chaplain you are invited into peoples lives, most times at the worst and lowest points. I would notice walking into the room that the grief seemed to be thicker than the oxygen.
I very easily related my experience to Lutheran pastor and writer Nadia Bolz-Weber when she recounted finding her role as a chaplain in her book: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint. She describes having just been paged for the first time to the Emergency Room,Trauma one, and upon entering there was a nurse cutting the clothes off a motionless man on a table, tubes coming out of his mouth and arms. Doctors had started working on his body and a crash cart was rolled into the room. And Nadia then describes that as a nursed stepped back to where she was standing, she leaned over to her and said “Everyone seems to have a job, but what am I doing here?” The nurse looked at her badge, noticed it read hospital chaplain and said, “Your job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room while we do our jobs.” Be aware of God’s presence— She thought it to be a weird job description but one that she had come to embrace.
In the moments of messy chaos, to be aware of God’s presence-demonstrated by a living Jesus who does come near to us. Strangers on the road discussing some of the challenging elements of Christian life: discouragement, disappointment, doubt, risk, faith, and hope.
Those who are journeying on the road to Emmaus come to the place where they were going. Cleopas and the other disciple urge Jesus to stay with them, break bread with them, and rest a while. And Jesus does.
And our next words from scripture provides a comforting and familiar scene “30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”
Jesus did this with the feeding of the multitudes; took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it. Same for the Last Supper; Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it.
I wonder if our travelers had seen Jesus do this before, because upon receiving the bread, Luke tells us in verse “31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” They were not disturbed but now fully aware that the stranger who was with them on the journey was indeed the risen Christ. On that Easter night, our travelers returned to Jerusalem, all seven miles (I imagine running),to tell the others what had happened “on the road” and “in the breaking of the bread.”
Author and theologian, Barbara Brown Taylor, says it best in her sermon “Blessed Brokeness” printed in Gospel Medicine, “Maybe that this is only good news if you happen to be broken. If you are not, then I guess it would be better news to hear a story about how those who believe in God may skip right over the broken part and go straight to the wholeness part, but that does not seem to be the case. Jesus seems to prefer working with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it, and give it, and he will do the same thing with his own flesh and blood, because that is the way of life God has shown him to show the rest of us: to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it–to say thank you for it– whether it is the sweet, satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you and to break it because that is the only way it can be shared, and to hand it around, not to eat it all by ourselves but to find someone to eat it with, so that the broken loaf may bring all of us broken ones together into one body, where we may recognize the risen Lord in our midst.”
Let me take a moment to go back to my statement about children and their theological questions. I may have led you to believe that only children ask about the presence of Jesus/God, but in reality, we all ask the question.
Where is Jesus? Where is Jesus in my faith journey? We look to scripture. We look to our experiences. We even look here, in our church to recognize Jesus Christ presence in our lives.
And there, at the table, in the presence of the Living Christ the sorrow was lifted as they realized that in life and death he had met them on their way. They might have given up on him, but he would never give up on them, and he never gives up on us. And in a few moments we will come to the table, remembering we are no longer the host, but as the guest in the presence of Jesus… and may it be so.