Third Sunday of Easter - "Our Hearts Were Burning!"
Okay, it's time for some real talk about the Coronavirus Crisis.
First, I'm thinking that military school is a real option for my children. I'm wondering if they can start now.
Second, and this connected to the first thing... I just feel like teachers aren't paid enough. Like, they should make a million dollars a year.
And also---I wish there was a way that I could put an electronic sign in my house in a prominent place where we could display what day it is. I think at least once a day someone in my house asks what day it is. And at least once a day, I have to actually check before I answer.
Can I just say that the toilet paper that was in stock when I snagged a couple of packages is almost certainly one-ply. I'm not going to go into a lot of details, but this doesn't really work for me, and it definitely doesn't work for my nine year-old boy. Let's just say that we are currently not allowing him to touch anything in the house.
Our dog is exhausted. The poor bugger gets walked like five times a day.
I also miss some things. I miss being able to go into the grocery store without wearing a mask--and my mask is starting to smell funny, so there's that.
I miss breweries.
I already miss all of the concerts I was going to attend this summer that have started getting cancelled.
I miss my gym. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth, so there you are.
And---I miss all of you. I miss gathering with you all on Sunday mornings, seeing you all coming and going from the church throughout the week.
What do you miss most? You can comment in the comment section of the live feed if you want.
But I would say that one of the things that we all kind of have in common is the fact that we miss gathering with our friends and neighbors and eating together. I miss having meals with friends. I miss the togetherness of those moments because nothing brings people closer together than a really good meal.
Here's a big question for everyone. What do we do when all of our usual ways of feeling connected to God and one another---are taken from us?
I don't know about you, but it leaves me feeling a bit lost... and bitterly disappointed.
The story that we're going to be exploring today from Luke's Gospel is a story about disappointment---a story about how the fire in the hearts of Jesus followers had all but gone out. It's also a story about how that fire got rekindled... through a meal.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.[b] 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth,[c] who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.[d] Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah[e] should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
These two disciples were probably husband and wife--there is a disciple named Mary who is mentioned being with the women who were gathered at Jesus' cross, and she is described as the "wife of Clopas." Most scholars agree that Clopas and Cleopas were likely the same person.
But more importantly, these two disciples were struggling. They had given up everything to follow Jesus, perhaps their livelihoods, their home... and now it's all over. Hope is gone.
What this demonstrates is something very, very human. Even witnessing something miraculous (and these disciples had certainly witnessed their fair share of miraculous things) is undermined by the doubt that comes with Jesus' death.
Then they encounter Jesus as a stranger, they don't recognize him---after all, it would be impossible that he would be up and walking around considering what they witnessed.
But in short order they find themselves being taught by this stranger, and then experiencing this stranger as host to a meal they thought they were inviting him to join.
It's in the moment of the breaking of the bread that they see him clearly.
And then they realize that they had been reading the Scripture all wrong. They had been looking at it through the wrong lens, believing that Jesus had come to liberate them from Roman oppression, and the suffering they had endured as a people.
They began to realize that God had been up to something completely different. Instead of offering redemption from suffering, God was offering through Jesus redemption through suffering.
In other words, God wasn't changing the circumstances, God was changing them. They were being transformed, and as a result they saw more clearly that Jesus was present with them in ways they had never dreamed, that Jesus was leading them through the struggle and out the other side to new life and new beginnings, just as he had promised.
The two once-forlorn disciples say to one another at that point, "Our hearts were burning inside of us..." The embers that had all but gone out in the fires of their heart were stoked to flame by their encounter with Jesus... and all became clear when he broke bread and blessed it, and gave it to them.
What do we learn from this---what is the big idea from this text that we can carry with us from this day forward?
When it feels like all hope is gone, when we've reached the impossible and the impossible feels like we can't move beyond it...
JESUS FANS THE FLAMES WHEN OUR FIRES HAVE GONE OUT.
We all know that it feels like to be these two disciples, trudging away from their hopes and dreams---the way they believed things ought to have been.
As I thought of these two trudging the seven mile journey to Emaus away from Jerusalem, I was reminded of a moment in the movie, A Knight's Tale when the main characters encounter a young Geoffrey Chaucer, who was trudging along the road, completely naked. He'd lost everything, including his clothes, in a bad gambling risk.
The hero of the story, William addresses Chaucer:
William: Oi, sir! What are you doing?
Geoffrey : Uh... trudging. You know, trudging? [pause] To trudge: the slow, weary, depressing yet determined walk of a man who has nothing left in life except the impulse to simply soldier on.
Despite everything those disciples had heard and seen, they had bottomed out, and were trying to find their way back to where they'd started. Like us, they were asking the question: What difference did all of this make, really? Nothing seems to have changed.
This is a serious question for us right now. What does it matter if Jesus was raised from the dead if death, anxiety, dread, fear, confusion, viruses, financial ruin... if these things still have dominion?
Is it enough for us to give up, to start trudging away in defeat? To begin to lower our expectations? To think to ourselves, "That was a nice story, but in the end... it's just a story. It didn't make any difference."
T.S. Eliot captured this quite well when he said:
The condition to which some who have gone as far…
Have succeeded in returning. They may remember
The vision they have had, but they cease to regret it.
Maintain themselves by the common routine,
Learn to avoid excessive expectation.
That last line should resonate with most of us... "Learn to avoid excessive expectation..."
Who among us have not felt blindsided in times of distress and wondered if even God can see what is around the bend?
So what can we do to keep the fire burning in our heart? What can we do to internalize and realize the Resurrection as something that didn't just happen, but that it's still happening all around us, all of the time--even when it doesn't seem like the Light is winning, and Jesus is present?
It all comes back to a meal, in the end.
And so we do what those disciples did on that road. We Gather At the Table.
Gathering at the table in this unprecedented season of isolation looks a lot different than it used to, doesn't it? We are not able to gather here---in this place, where we have gathered together so often that it has become synonymous with our gathering.
Up until the last two months, the Office of Theology and Worship of the PCUSA stuffily declared that "virtual" communion wasn't really communion because it lacked the element of "community." I actually got into an online discussion about this where this was the subject of debate.
But after all of this happened... suddenly the idea of what constitutes community changed overnight. And the Office of Theology and Worship of the PCUSA issued a new declaration stating that all of this was okay.
We knew better before that, though. Because the beauty of gathering at the table cannot be marred by a virus. We can't be kept from gathering at the table even though we might be gathering at the table in our own homes with elements that we gather from our own pantries.
So wherever you are---let's gather at this table together. We will do it again face to face, but until then, we will gather and we will know that we aren't gathering alone.
And secondly, when we gather We need to remember.
I need to say something about what I mean by the word "remember," though. Remembering in this sense has to do with experience, and experience is something that is hard to connect to a place and a time.
It's too easy to simply say that we are celebrating Holy Communion because we want to remember what Jesus did. When it's all about remembrance, we trap Jesus into a moment, and neglect to acknowledge that in this case remembering is about our experience of what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives.
God doesn't operate on our timelines. The time that God is operating on is best described with the Greek word kairos, which connotes something outside of our temporal understanding.
So what does this mean? It means that God is doing something now. Jesus is present at the table now. When you break bread and share with your family in your home today, when you drink from the cup---Jesus is present. Jesus is alive, all around you, in you and through you. Right now. Where you are.
And finally, when we gather at the table and remember, we need to Expect the Unexpected. There is joy in these moments. There is joy in the realization that we are not alone. There is joy and surprise that comes from realizing that no matter where we are, Jesus is present---even in isolation, even in quarantine.
Jesus appeared in a locked room full of fearful disciples afraid to go out.
Jesus appeared on a beach welcoming his followers back to shore after they had tried to go back to their old lives.
Jesus appeared on the road to two tired, worn out, disappointed people who had lost their hope.
Come on y'all. I want to hear some whooping and hollering, some "Amens and Hallelujahs" all the way over here at the church right about now.
Because Jesus is still showing up in unexpected places.
In hospital rooms where people are fighting for their lives.
In lonely apartments where a single mom is struggling to figure all of this out without working.
In the break rooms of the tired health care workers, nurses, doctors, EMTs who feel like they've got nothing left to give.
In the living room of a teacher signs on a virtual classroom, trying to do everything she can to reach her kids---worrying about the ones who aren't there because they don't have internet, or the ones who are hungry...
And all of this rushes into the hearts of us here today as we gather at the table... Jesus isn't done. Resurrection is on its way, just like it always is in God's economy.
If the fires in your heart have gone out today---trust me, there's some embers there that just need a good gust of the Spirit of Christ to fan them into flames.
Because Jesus fans the flames when our fires have gone out.
So break your bread today... share your cup... and get ready.