3 Easter – April 30, 2017
Our gospel story this morning fills this account of Jesus’ resurrection with the paradox of the Christ who is stranger and companion. Two quotes from Augustine convey the beautiful paradox: “The teacher was walking with them along the way and he himself was the way.” “And because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread.”
The scripture tells us that this was about a seven-mile walk. Not really that far in those days when people were used to walking. But, there are some walks that are longer than others — not because of the miles or even because of the landscape, but because of the burdens. It’s a long trip between Jerusalem and Emmaus because the distance between “we had hoped” and “the Lord is risen indeed” seems like forever, the longest trip ever. Are we there yet?
If we are honest, that’s where most of us are, a lot of the time — somewhere in between distress and belief. Between disillusionment and acceptance. Between dashed hopes and promises fulfilled.
“We had hoped” may be the three saddest words in scripture. In this case, it’s “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” In ours it might be, “we had hoped our child would recover,” or “this job would last,” or “for a better relationship” or “that the cancer would go into remission”.
Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. And so, before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, he does two things. He comes along side these forlorn disciples and he asks them to name their loss.
Jesus gets them to articulate what they experienced. “What things?” says Jesus. And the response of the disciples is right on, “Where have you been these last few days? Living under a rock?” Yet, the question “what things?” leads the disciples to describe the things, which they have to do — to name the hurt. To name the fear. To name the doubt. And then Jesus picks it up from there and takes it home.
Naming our pain, our grief, our loss are essential ingredients to moving beyond them. Not,erasing them or even leaving them fully behind, but transcending them so that they are no longer what defines us. In other words, naming our pain, creates room to be surprised.
The disciples are disappointed in part because they fundamentally misunderstood how God was working to save the world. Expecting a God of power, they got one of vulnerability. Expecting a warrior God, they got a suffering servant. While the disciples may be disappointed because they misunderstand God’s work, their pain and grief are real and the first thing Jesus does is invite them to name it so that there is now room to be surprised by God’s decision to show up just where they least expect God to be.
And that still happens. When we name our grief, pain, disappointment, and fear in the safety of the community of faith and with the assurance of grace, we find these things have less of a hold on us, they become less of a burden and we discover room to be surprised, once again, by God’s presence, love, and promises.
That’s what Jesus does. What Jesus wants us to know today. Not just that he will show up, but that he will show up and give us the opportunity to speak the truth of our pain; help us make sense of it all, or at least some of it; help us get to a place where we can see beyond just what’s happened; help us to move from “we had hoped” to “the Lord is risen indeed.”
Remember the quotes from St. Augustine: “The teacher was walking with them along the way and he himself was the way.” “And because they observed hospitality, him who they knew not yet in the expounding of scriptures, they suddenly know in the breaking of bread.”
Fredd Craddock, one of America’s great teachers of preaching, tells the story of a breakfast experience. He was stuck in Winnipeg, Canada in the midst of an early October snow storm which paralyzed the city. Everything was shut down and his host could not even make it to Fred’s hotel to pick him up for breakfast.
So, for breakfast, Fred found himself at a crowded bus depot café about two blocks from his hotel. As he entered, somebody scooted over and let him get in a booth. A big man with a greasy apron came over to the table and asked him what he wanted. Not knowing what the café served, Fred asked to see a menu.
“What’d ya want with a menu?” the man asked. “We have soup.”
“Then I’ll have soup,” Fred said. Just what he wanted–soup for breakfast.
The man brought the soup and Craddock says it was an unusual looking soup. It was grey, the color of a mouse. He did not know what was in it, but he took his spoon and tasted it. Awful! “I can’t eat this,” he said. So he sat in that crowded café warming his hands around the bowl, railing against the world, stuck in Winnipeg.
Then, the door opened and someone yelled, “Close the door,” and she did. A woman came in. She was middle-aged, had on a coat, but no covering for her head. Someone scooted over and let her in a booth. The big man with the greasy apron came over and the whole café heard this conversation: “What’d ya want?”
“Bring me a glass of water,” she said.
The man brought the water, took out his tablet and repeated the question. “What’d ya want?” “Just the water.” “Lady, you gotta order something.”
“Just the water.”
The man’s voice started rising: “Lady, I’ve got paying customers here waiting for a place, now order!” “Just the water.” “You order something or you get out!” “Can I stay and get warm?” “Order or get out.”
So, she got up. The people at the table where she was seated got up, people around got up, the folks that let Fred sit at the table got up, Fred got up, and they all started moving toward the door.
“OK,” the big man with the greasy apron said, “She can stay.” And everybody sat down. He even brought her a bowl of that soup. Fred asked the man sitting next to him, “Who is she?” “I never saw her before,” he said, “but if she ain’t welcome, ain’t nobody welcome.”
Then Craddock said, all you could hear was the sound of people eating that soup. “Well, if they can eat it, I can eat it,” he said. He picked up his spoon and started eating the soup.
“It was good soup. I ate all of that soup. It was strange soup. I don’t remember ever having it. As I left I remembered eating something that tasted like that before. That soup that day tasted like bread and wine.”
Jesus had been made know to them in the breaking of the bread. I end with a blessing written by Jan Richardson: A Blessing That Does Not End:
From the moment
it first laid eyes
this blessing loved you.
from the start.
It cannot explain how.
It just knows
that the first time
it sat down beside you,
it entered into a conversation
that had already been going on
Believe this conversation
has not stopped.
Believe this love
the love that crossed
an impossible distance
to reach you,
to find you,
to take your face
into its hands
and bless you.
does not end—
that the gesture,
Believe this love
that it still
takes your face
into its hands,
that it presses
its forehead to yours
as it speaks to you
in undying words,
that it has never ceased
to gather your heart
into its heart.
Believe this blessing
Believe it goes with you
Believe it knows you
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief