Walk to Emmaus- April 26, 2020 Sermon

Sermon for April 26, 2020

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     On the news and in the papers we are reading stories of how people are coping with the current Covid-19 pandemic. In the latest News Review we read of politicians complaining about the governor’s decision to extend the “Safer at Home” order to near the end of May. There seems to be political tension about what is of first importance: public health safety or worry about the economy. On the morning news this past Friday four laid-off workers from Boeing were in tears because of no job prospects, delayed unemployment money, and pending bills. Social historians are now in the process of collecting personal stories from people around the country—both written journals and emails. This collection of stories has the title: “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of Covid-19”. It is thought such a collection of stories will help policy makers fully understand how this health crisis has affected the lives of so many. One contributor, who lives near Las Vegas, sent in a two minute video clip that began with a question: “Just who will be next to get sick with Covid-19? A neighbor, a friend, a family member?” She spoke of her fear and frustration saying “No matter how many Skype meetings I have, no matter how much I am on Facebook, no matter how much I write in my journal and try to laugh through the tears, it feels so different. Living with this uncertainty is so unsettling but I feel that no matter what happens, I guess it is hope that keeps my spirits up.” (This story was found in a New York Times article last week).

     Today’s gospel lesson for the Third Sunday of Easter has a familiar title “The Walk to Emmaus”. It begins with two men, only one is named, a man named Cleopas. Some scholars wonder if the pair was actually not two men but husband and wife. Anyway they are leaving Jerusalem certainly unsettled by the recent events. They were discussing the death of Jesus. Jesus had filled their lives with so much hope. Maybe they were close followers of Jesus and had witnessed his deeds of healing and compassion. They were sure he was the one, the long-awaited Messiah who would redeem or set Israel free from its bondage to foreign rule and oppression. But the foreign rulers and oppressors nailed Jesus to the cross. All their hopes of Jesus being their promised redeemer crashed into ruins at the cross. It is hard to sustain any hope when, as usual, death has the last word. But to add to their pain was a report by various women that Jesus’ tomb was empty. And more than that they had seen a vision of angels who told them Jesus was alive. But the woman’s report was not believed. Actually the men disciples thought the women were delirious, babbling in foolish talk. True enough, some of the men disciples investigated and found a vacated tomb, but no one saw Jesus.

As the two companions were talking about the latest news and trying to make sense of it, they were joined by the risen Jesus. They did not recognize him. This is a common theme in the resurrection accounts. In the minds of the disciples Jesus had been crucified. He was dead. They were not expecting Jesus to suddenly show up and join their journey. Jesus did not interrupt the two travelers and identify himself. He wanted to hear their stories and understand the depth of their sadness. The gospel text made it clear that they stopped in their tracks and looked sad, telling Jesus “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?” It almost sounded like they scolded Jesus whom they thought was a stranger who must have spent too much time alone and not caught up with current events.

There may have been times when you felt like scolding Jesus, or wondering why he was absent in your time of distress. Jesus may have been acting like stranger, totally unaware. As you know we live in a fearful time. It is unsettling to hear of the thousands who have died from the virus infection. We worry if the virus infection numbers will climb in the North Woods. It is an unsettling time for our young people. High School Seniors do not know if any graduation ceremony will take place. I have two nephews who were looking forward to coveted internships to enhance their job prospects, but it looks like such opportunities will be canceled. It is terribly unsetting if you are broke and out of work. In such times faith seems to fail us. Jesus is like the stranger who does not seem to know what is going on.

It seems to me that our gospel text, the Walk to Emmaus, teaches that Jesus is a stranger. A stranger, that is, to the idea that he is to guarantee a peaceful and trouble-free life. We are disappointed that Jesus has not freed us from the pains of life including loss and grief. But what this text, the “Walk to Emmaus” does teach is that Jesus is indeed alive and walks with us throughout life. Perpetual happiness is not a guarantee. But what is perpetual is the faithfulness of our risen Lord and Savior who has promised “I am with you always….. I will never leave nor forsake you”. So Jesus is with us in these disturbing and unsetting days to be our refuge, strength, and support.

The Psalm for today, Psalm 116, began “I love the Lord, who has heard my voice, and listened to my supplication, for the Lord has given ear to me whenever I called.” The Psalm writers like to describe God in human ways….God has eyes and ears and a strong hand to save. The Psalmist wanted to make clear that no matter who we are, no matter our condition or financial status, the Lord has “given us ear”, God will listen to your prayer in whatever form they may take. Later in the psalm we read “the Lord has rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.” Even when we stumble around in the darkness of no faith, the Lord finds us and lifts us up so we remain close to God. The Psalmist, with thanksgiving, said “I will lift up my cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” The study Bible explained that this is like giving a toast to God, lift up your glass of wine or cup of coffee daily and toast God! As you toast the Lord who walks with you and hears your prayers, you speak words of testimony thanking God for being faithful, steadfast in love, and true to the promise of not forsaking you.

Returning to the Gospel text it sounded like it was Jesus’ turn to scold the two, saying, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Please note that Jesus did not call them ‘fools’ and walk away in disgust. He thought they were foolish for not remembering the Scriptures, and being slow to apply them for their lives, foolish for not remembering what he told them about his death and resurrection. So with patience and persistent love Jesus interpreted the Scriptures for them, beginning way back to Moses and going through the prophets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Jesus give you and me a personal Bible study! He wanted to show how the Scripture promises find their fulfillment in him, that Jesus is indeed a Redeemer. Now to redeem is to free and so we wonder just what does Jesus free us from? The New Testament reading for today, from 1 Peter, answers the question: “You know you were ransomed (or redeemed) from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like a lamb without defect or blemish….through him you have come to trust God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” What a beautiful text! Enjoy it! All the money in the world, silver and gold, cannot provide what our souls truly need. But Jesus does: he is the perfect sacrifice or Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! You have been redeemed, Luther explains in the catechism, from all sins, death, and the power of the devil, by Jesus and the cost of his life on the cross. Jesus did this so that you may belong to him—Jesus truly loves you and wants you to with him forever. Because of what Jesus has done, we trust God and are given a living hope that no burden, anxiety, or pandemic can take away.

When Cleopas and his companion invite Jesus into his home, hospitality dictated that a meal be provided. Jesus gave the blessing. He took the bread, broke it, and gave it to them. Now they recognized him! They had to get up from their meal, and retrace their steps, seven miles worth, back to Jerusalem and tell the others, Jesus is risen and alive, and revealed himself in the breaking of the bread. The two also said “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” This is such a beautiful text of the good news of Easter. It reveals that Jesus does not avoid our sadness and deficit of hope, but walks with us. In our times of worship, and in our personal study of Scripture, may we ask him to “open the scriptures for us.” We are asking Jesus to open the Scriptures so we can enter into the them, enter into the power of knowing all that the love of God has done and is doing for us.

The text promised Jesus reveals himself in the ‘breaking of the bread’. Luke is the gospel where Jesus’ presence at meals is prominent. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus pictures the Kingdom of God where the banquet welcomes all the least and the lowly and not just the elite of the world. Jesus teaches that the meal of the Kingdom of God is not an opportunity for status seeking, for all are seated around Jesus and his love. Jesus feeds the multitudes by just taking a few loaves, blessing them, and distributing so all have enough. And now his resurrection life is revealed at a meal, so we recognize his presence for us. We are talking, of course, about the meal of Holy Communion.

I began by sharing a story from the New York Times about a social history being compiled with the title “Journal of the Plague Year”. What story about how you are doing would you contribute? You may tell of your fear of sickness and worry about family and friends, their health and finances. Although we do not take the plague of Covid-19 lightly, we know who is walking with us to face any challenge ahead. Jesus hears our prayers and journeys with us. I close with a quotation from a devotion by a pastor Samuel Rodriquez: “I arrived at the unshakable truth that I am not defined by what I do for God. I am defined by what God has already did for me. Jesus defines me: his love, mercy, grace, righteousness, joy, peace, and atonement. Resurrection and Spirit define me. It’s not to say that by trusting God we will never find ourselves face to face with fear and doubt. Quite the contrary. Both the actions and words of Jesus provide an unambiguous assurance that at the end of the day, his peace will reign and his purpose will be done.”

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