Sermon for 3rd Sunday in Easter
This is the Sunday when the story of the risen Jesus meeting some of his disciples on the road to Emmaus is to be read. It is difficult to put ourselves into the chaos that must have confused those disciples. So, today, in the midst of our own chaos and exile, perhaps we can seek to find some peace in the confusion.
Life is complicated for us – especially these days. Our world is in tumult and the ever-changing circumstances can leave us drained and weary. Events happen which frighten us and even challenge our understanding of the world. Even positive news can leave us unsettled and uncertain. Into this chaotic upset, Jesus offers a peace that passes our limited understanding. We seek and find the presence of God in our midst always.
You have to pity the disciples! They were, on the days right after Easter, confused and scared. The brutality of the crucifixion took away their dream of a Messiah. They were left with shattered dreams and painful doubts. Everything they had counted on had been ripped away, and they had been cast into new land without a map or directions.
From our 21st century perspective, of course, we have an advantage over the first disciples. We are nearly 2000 years removed from the violent events of Holy Week. We know that Jesus’ story did not end on Good Friday. Here we are, in the midst of a strange Easter season. We have shared the joy of Easter and Christ’s resurrection … even without the celebration in church. We celebrate the glorious, mysterious events –we already know about the rolled away stone, the empty tomb, and the neatly folded burial clothes. We have heard about the heavenly messengers who asked the women, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen.” We know that there are lots of reasons to celebrate.
But, those poor disciples! They were still lingering in the sadness of the death of their friend and companion. They had only heard rumors and confused descriptions of a risen Christ from breathless witnesses. They had received a jumble of reports that didn’t make any sense. Instead of thinking “resurrection”, they were concerned about grave robbing. Rather than rejoicing at a new life, they were still grieving a sudden, nasty death. With that horror behind them, they were still trying to comprehend that announcement: “He is not here, he has risen.” Instead of rushing out, jubilantly, to share that life-giving good news, they seemed frozen in place and time, able only to talk about the recent overwhelming events as they sought to gain some understanding. They were somewhat paralyzed by fear.
When Jesus does finally appear to them, the disciples still don’t understand. We would like them immediately to break out in praise and worship, but the opposite is true. They are startled and terrified. Instead of seeing a vision of new life, they believe they are looking at a ghost.
In that dramatic moment when Jesus appeared to them, they could not recognize the activity of God. This is important for us to keep in mind when we are searching for signs of God’s presence or some kind of proof that God is with us. In the midst of the chaos of our lives, we sometimes miss God altogether. God may be trying to speak to us, but we may not be able to hear or understand. It can be difficult to remember that God has promised to be with us always. We may not recognize God even as he stands before us. Our first response when things go wrong or the unexpected happens maybe doubt or panic or even terror.
This is nothing new. It’s always been that way in human history… ever since Jesus was born (and even long before that, if we look in the Hebrew stories). The Gospel of Luke tells many stories of surprising encounters with God. Jesus enters into people’s lives, and that changes everything. Nothing seems familiar. Not to push the metaphor too heavily, but maybe it is like trying to drive somewhere new without a map or GPS. We can feel disoriented, doubtful, panicked or even terrified. The first time I went to England as an adult, I was foolish and rented a car at the airport and drove merrily into central London – no map, no directions, driving in the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, and all that with my sainted grandmother doing her best to back-seat drive from the passenger seat! Disoriented for sure, annoyed at my foolish pride, and then the panic came when I thought that maybe we would never find our hotel.
Chaos and turmoil are all around us these days. We don’t have to look far to see people who need God’s peace. Precisely at that moment of disorientation and fear, Jesus offers soothing peace and reassurance. As he did on the road to Emmaus when he encountered his bewildered friends, Jesus enters the turmoil and upset to reassure us that we are not alone. Jesus’ reassuring words, “I am with you always,” are not empty words. They remind us that we do not have to face any turmoil on our own.
In this winter of exile, we first come to understand what the disciples on their way to Emmaus learned. Then, and this is important, we go out and seek those who remain fearful and bewildered. We are the agents of God’s peace and we bring that reassurance to everyone else. The peace of God, which is the gift of loving-kindness, can be shared and passed on to others. They need that, and it can change everything.