Road to Emmaus

by Rev. Sarah Buteux

Luke 24:13-35 Easter 3,Year A

I’ve never assigned homework for a sermon before, but if you got our Friday e-mailing I’m hoping you clicked on the link I sent to a 3 minute clip by comedian Julie Nolke. 

Or maybe you’d already seen it on facebook. If you haven’t watched it yet, go ahead and pause the service – you can do that now –  and google: “Explaining the Pandemic to My Past Self.”

We’ll wait. 

I’ll be right here.

Because this is where I live now…inside this little box.

Ok, you done? You back? You liked it? Good.

It’s funny isn’t it, trying to watch someone explain what we’re going through now, to someone way back in the year 2019… without too much detail of course, because – you know – the butterfly effect. Love that.

My favorite part is when Julie from the past chooses the good news over the bad news and is delighted to hear that things have never been better for climate change. 

“That’s incredible,” she says, “especially considering the Australian wildfires.” 

“The what?” Her future self says, “Oh yeah.”  

“I mean,” says past Julie, “I think those are going to be the defining feature of 2020” 

“Yeah, you’d think, but no, not even a little bit,  

“Really because they’re a pretty big deal.”  

“Yeah,” says future Julie, “your definition of a pretty big deal is going to change.”

It’s funny because it’s true. It’s funny, because how do you even begin to explain what we’re going through right now?

How do you describe the unthinkable?

How do you process the unreasonable?

How do you survive the unimaginable?

It’s funny because she tells her past self to invest in zoom, make a Costco run, and worry more about upping her walking game then the stress of upcoming travel, but I’ll tell you what…I did everything but invest in zoom, and I feel as lost and confused as ever.  I was not prepared for this, and I know you weren’t either, because the truth is, no one could prepare for this. 

Preparing for two weeks of lock down or 6 weeks of social distancing is one thing. (And frankly, between you and me, I had that completely under control. I laid in provisions. I learned how to use zoom. We made homemade bread and we got through Easter. I kicked into emergency high gear and we got it done. Easy peasy). 

But 6 months of no school. 

12 months with no gatherings at church. 

18 months or more before a vaccine…

Lord have mercy. No one was prepared for that. 

Those of you who know me well, know that this is the week I hit the wall. This is the week we ran out of flour and weren’t sure we’d ever find more. This is the week schools were officially closed for the rest of the year. This is the week the whole marathon vs. sprint metaphor finally hit home…and it hit hard.  

I was not prepared for this and either were you because the truth is, it’s impossible to prepare for having your world turned upside down, your plans shelved, your hopes dashed, and all the supports upon which you’ve built your life ripped out from underneath you like the proverbial rug.

It’s impossible. And yet, when you think about it, that’s exactly what happened to the disciples of Jesus. OK, maybe not exactly. They weren’t dealing with a pandemic or making the move to on-line education, but the two disciples we meet up with today are dealing with the fact that their world has been upended. 

You see, they’d been all in for Jesus. He was, in the words of Cleopas: “a prophet mighty in word and deed.” They’d heard Jesus teach. They’d seen him heal. They’d watched as he ran rings around the learned and confounded the powerful. These two disciples were so impressed, so enamored with this new rabbi, that they had even left their home in Emmaus behind, to follow him. 

Cleopas and his friend – who I’m going to assume was a woman since Luke doesn’t bother to name her – had thrown their lot in with the other disciples. They’d given up everything in an attempt to help Jesus establish a new kind of kingdom. 

The one he talked about non-stop. A new world order where the powerful would be brought down and the lowly lifted up, where the hungry would be fed and the prisoners set free. A world of peace and justice and prosperity for all…only to see all those hopes die on the cross. 

Please understand that at this moment, in their minds, as they trudge home with their tails between their legs, they are utterly convinced that everything they believed about Jesus was false. Because, you see, everyone knew that a crucified messiah was no messiah. Rule number one for messiahship is that the messiah triumphs over. A real messiah would never go under. But their Jesus had lost. Their Jesus had died. 

“We had hoped,” says Cleopas, “that he was the one to redeem Israel…” but he and his friend are walking home now because they realize that their hope was in vain. They were wrong. Their world is shattered. There’s nothing left to do now but slink back to Emmaus and reconsider their life choices. 

All their plans…shelved. 

All their hopes….dashed. 

All their supports…gone. 

The band has broken up. 

There’s nothing for it but to admit they were wrong and start again. 

So here they are, on the road between Jerusalem and Emmaus, trying to describe the unthinkable to this stranger who has appeared out of nowhere, trying to process the unreasonable, survive the unimaginable.

And friends, note if you will, that not even Jesus himself can shake them out of their despair. They are so blinded by their sorrow that they don’t recognize him anymore than Mary did that very morning. 

Jesus attempts to reframe their experience in light of the scriptures. He tries to explain that this has all happened for a reason, that God can bring something good out of this, that there is always cause for hope…and they’re not really having it. It’s just too soon. 

And friends, I get that. When your world is shattered, when things don’t go the way you’d planned, when you lose and lose hard… sometimes you just have to take the time to dwell in that place of loss and mourn. “(T)heir sadness and anxiety have turned them inward… “ according to one commentary, I read, “They’ve lowered the shades, from within their house of sorrow.”  

They are so traumatized that they can’t take in any new information, no matter how helpful or hopeful it might be. They can’t even fully process the interaction they’re having with this stranger enough to recognize that it’s Jesus. And friends, that’s real, and that’s understandable… and that’s ok. 

Sometimes we can’t be helped out of our sorrow, not even by God. Sometimes we just need a little more time and space to stay in it so that we can really deal with it. You don’t have to feel any better about things right now than you actually do. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to be angry. It makes sense to be afraid.

But – and here is the truly amazing part of this story – even in their sorrow and dissolution, they turn to the well meaning stranger and invite him in to dinner anyway. They offer to share their bread. They extend hospitality. He is hungry and so they feed him. He is thirsty and they offer him a place to drink. 

Cleopas and his friend – we’ll call her Shirley – somehow find a way to live with the same openness and generosity and grace that Jesus had modeled for them while he was alive. They are living in the way of Jesus whether he is the messiah or not. 

They don’t know what’s next… but they do the next right thing. 

They don’t know what’s true anymore… but they are true to what they’ve been taught. 

And as Jesus sits down at their table, as he takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks it, all of a sudden they find that it is in living in the way of Jesus, that we experience the reality of Jesus. He becomes known to them in the breaking  – in their sharing – of the bread.

Friends, we’re living through the unthinkable right now, the unreasonable, the unimaginable.  We don’t know what will make sense in a few weeks, months, or even a year from now, anymore then we know how to make sense of this moment we are living in right now. 

We were not prepared for this and as a consequence we don’t necessarily know what to do next… but we know how to act. 

We know what we’ve been taught.

We know that we are called to love as we have been loved and forgive as we have been forgiven; that love is patient and love is kind. It does not berate the person stocking shelves if there is no toilet paper. 

It honors the work of health care workers by staying home. It trusts that everyone – from your child’s teacher, to your pastor, to your partner – is doing their best, and goes easy on them.

We know that whatever we do for the least of these we do for Jesus: that every bottle of water placed the the micro pantry in front of our church, every tip left in a virtual jar, every gift card to the grocery store we pass on to a struggling family, is another way to feed and honor and love our Jesus. 

We know his yoke is easy and his burden is light, that he will walk beside us in our grief and disappointment, just as he walked with Cleopas and Shirley, that he will help us carry this load and eventually make sense of all this, just as he did for them. 

That’s what I’d tell your past self and mine if I could go back in time and sit across from you at your kitchen table.  

I’d tell you to fall back on what you’ve been taught. 

I’d tell you to do the next right thing. 

That’s how we’ll keep finding our way forward

That’s how we’ll keep finding Jesus.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control…

They’ve never been more important.

They will never be wrong.

They will always be the way that leads us home.