Reflection Eastertide Week 3 April 26, 2020
Straight from the Heart
That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. But they were not able to recognize who He was. Jesus asked, “What’s this you’re discussing so intently as you walk along?” They just stood there, long-faced, like they had lost their best friend. Then one of them, his name was Cleopas, said, “Are You the only one in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard what’s happened during the last few days?” Jesus said, “What has happened?” They said, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene. He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed Him, got Him sentenced to death, and crucified Him. And we had our hopes up that He was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find His body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.” Then Jesus said to them, “So thick-headed! So slow-hearted! Why can’t you simply believe all that the prophets said? Don’t you see that these things had to happen, that the Messiah had to suffer and only then enter into His glory?” Then He started at the beginning, with the Books of Moses, and went on through all the Prophets, pointing out everything in the Scriptures that referred to Him. They came to the edge of the village where they were headed. He acted as if he were going on but they pressed Him: “Stay and have supper with us. It’s nearly evening; the day is done.” So He went in with them. And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, He blessed and broke and gave it to them. At that moment, open-eyed, wide-eyed, they recognized Him. And then He disappeared. Back and forth they talked. “Didn’t we feel on fire as He conversed with us on the road, as He opened up the Scriptures for us?” They didn’t waste a minute. They were up and on their way back to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and their friends gathered together, talking away: “It’s really happened! The Master has been raised up – Simon saw Him!” Then the two went over everything that happened on the road and how they recognized the Risen Christ when He broke the bread. Luke 24: 13-35
Good Sunday morning, friends! Wherever you’re joining us from we’re glad you’re here! I’m Pastor Marylee Sheffer, and I’m preaching outside in one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Napa Valley. Many of us are participating in Napa Methodist Church worship from safe distances, and our hope and prayer is that all of these elements of worship bless you and strengthen you for these challenging days of sheltering in place. Today is the third week of Easter, and we’re beginning a new sermon series called “The Heart of the Matter.”
Today’s gospel story is familiar, maybe overly familiar to some of us, but in this time of pandemic we’re invited to hear it with the ears of that first Easter. Jesus’ disciples were huddled in fear behind closed doors, their broken dreams still crashing around them, and grief and bewilderment becoming the new normal. I’m guessing all of us can relate to some of how they were feeling… and we can learn from them how to find hope and courage – how we can take heart – in an extraordinarily difficult time.
Two of Jesus’ friends, Cleopas and probably his wife, were walking – not just the road to Emmaus – but the road of broken dreams. All that had been accomplished in their three years with Jesus – healing the sick and feeding the hungry, inviting sinners and outcasts to experience God’s inclusive love, and revealing that all people are beloved to God – all that Jesus had told them and shown them were signs of God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven – all of that had gasped a dying breath on the cross and been laid in a tomb. This conversation between the two disciples could have taken place anywhere, but Luke’s gospel tells us they were on the road, they were moving. This is because even when we’re shocked and grieving life moves on. This is because God’s Kingdom is always on the move. And this is because even when we’re sheltering in place the Holy Spirit is moving in us, encouraging us to reach out to others, and to share more freely than we might have straight from the heart, how much we care about each other and about this world that God so loves.
Jesus met the two on the road and conversed with them; first listening to their grief and disappointment and then giving them a history lesson. I don’t think the history lesson is the important part of this conversation, but that our history with God is terribly important in times of stress and fear and loneliness. God’s grace – that is the love and kindness and partiality God has for all life – was first evidenced in the beginning when God created this beautiful home we call earth. Earth Day was a quiet human celebration this year, but earth itself and her other creatures demonstrated loudly that when we shelter in place, and when we are more mindful of what we spew into the atmosphere, creation has an opportunity to rest and heal. The history of God’s grace is evidenced in the delight God took in creating earth and its inhabitants. Our own history of God’s grace is evidenced in all the love we have received and returned throughout our lives, in opportunities we’ve had to use our gifts to serve others, in the joys of living, and in the beauty of this world. Our history with God is crucial to recall when we’re walking on the road of broken dreams because we can become bitter and vengeful when we’re hurting, instead of realizing that God walks with us in love and in solidarity with our suffering. Instead of realizing that God can use or redeem our suffering to help others heal.
The disciples walked the road with Jesus not able to recognize Him. It’s easy to miss Him when we’re sorrowing and fearful (and easy to miss Him when everything’s going our way too.) Noticing Christ with us is challenging. We need, as Jesus said, “eyes to see and ears to hear” and spiritual practices that help attune us to His presence of love. The Risen Christ was recognized by His friends in an act of love and hospitality; in the breaking and sharing of bread. One of the ways we make Christ known in the world today is in acts of hospitality. This time of pandemic is moving us to practice hospitality in new ways and with greater intentionality. We can’t assume our neighbors are okay, or that people we care about automatically know we love them. We can’t support xenophobia or anything else that divides the earth as one people struggling to survive. We can’t ignore the needs of those who don’t have the comfort and security we have. Because when we do any of these things, we don’t reveal the Risen Christ who walks this road with us.
Meals were important to Jesus, who was criticized for how many He shared with the wrong kind of people, and how much He seemed to enjoy all of them. Shared meals have spiritual significance throughout the bible as signs…. of God’s intimate care for the needs of humanity… of Israel’s longing to gather again as one people… of Jesus’ inclusion of all people… of the Table of love and sacrifice that He invited His friends and betrayers to. The Risen Christ blessed, broke, and gave bread to His friends, and then He disappeared. His actions spoke to them of His continuing mission. His followers are to bless others and to sanctify life; we are to break open barriers that divide us and break down systems that oppress and deny the full humanity of all people; and we are to give all we can so there’s enough for everyone.
The broken hearts of the disciples turned to burning hearts. They asked each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when He talked with us on the road? A heart broken from disappointment and suffering can be healed when it burns with love and compassion for others. The disciples’ hearts were on fire, which they didn’t keep to themselves, but went and told Jesus’ other followers. And gradually… the disciples came out from behind locked doors and left their shattered dreams behind and their broken hearts became hearts that burned for others to know about the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ.
The heart of this gospel story invites us to do three things. When walking the road of broken dreams, look for the Risen Christ who walks with you. Bless, break, and give. in acts of love and hospitality as Christ did. And recognize a burning or broken heart as God’s invitation to you to help ease the suffering of others. Love is the heart of the matter, friends. It’s what God has put in our hearts to share, it’s what makes us truly human, and it’s what reveals God’s presence with us.
Next Sunday we’re celebrating Communion. In preparation for this sacred meal, I invite you to bake some bread (perhaps as a family activity), to set the table (perhaps with extra chairs for loved ones not with you, or a chair for the Risen Christ), to light a candle, and to imagine the church throughout the world celebrating with us.
Will you pray the Lord’s Prayer with me now?