By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Easter – May 4, 2014
The most striking words in our gospel story today are these: “We had hoped.” “We had hoped.” We hear families use that phrase when they are packing up the things they had brought with them to the ICU. “We had hoped … ,” they say, and then they go home alone. Families use this phrase when addictions return, or jobs go away. Although theologies of hope focus on a dawning future, the moment that catches attention is that moment of deep disappointment.
“But we had hoped …” So much is said in those four words. They speak of a future that is not to be, a dream that created energy and enthusiasm but did not materialize, a promise that created faith that proved to be false. It speaks of a future that is closed off, now irrelevant, dead. And there are few things more tragic than a dead future. Once challenged to write a short-story in six words, Ernest Hemingway supposedly replied by writing on a napkin: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.” It’s not just the tragedy of what happened that hurts, but the gaping hole of all that could have happened but won’t.
Frederick Buechner, in his book, The Magnificent Defeat, said, “Emmaus is where we go when life gets to be too much for us; … the place we go in order to escape – a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, ‘Let the whole … thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway.’ … Emmaus may be buying a new suit or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. … Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred; that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had – ideas about love and freedom and justice – have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.”
We are, though, people of the resurrection, people of hope. And so when reading this story we often hurry to the burning hearts part of the narrative, celebrating with the disciples their encounter with the Risen Christ.
But before there is a resurrection there is a cross. Before there are burning hearts there are broken ones.
Part and parcel of being human is being broken. And it is to these heartbroken disciples — in today’s reading and in this Sunday’s worship — that the Risen Christ comes, walking along with us on the road, astonished that we don’t see as we ought, teaching us the Scriptures that we may understand, sharing his presence through the breaking of the bread, and granting burning hearts that prompt us back into the world.
At one time or another, we all walk the trail of tears, the road to Emmaus, with broken hearts. We want to hide somewhere, lick our wounds, and nurse our cynicism. And there, on the road, a stranger joins us.
But do we see him? And if so, do we welcome him? Answer his questions? Hear his message? Recognize him for who he is? Jesus comes to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. He comes to wounded people on that long, lonely road to Emmaus. He comes to them to give them hope again, to say, no, this is not defeat, this is a new beginning.
In our own brokenness, Jesus also comes. Jesus comes to us on our own road to Emmaus. Jesus works with broken people, with broken dreams, in a broken world. If someone hands him a whole loaf, he will take it, bless it, break it and give it, and he will do the same thing with his own flesh and blood. Because that is the way of life God has shown him to show the rest of us: to take what we have been given, whether we like it or not, and to bless it—to say thank you for it—whether it is the sweet satisfying bread of success or the tear-soaked bread of sorrow. To say thank you, and to break it.
“Walking together”–-not in despair now, but in hope and joy, filled with the presence of Christ! Walking together, as brothers and sisters, to announce good news to the world. Walking together, Christ is present. Walking together, as the late French philosopher Albert Camus–though not a Christian–said so well:
Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead.
Walk beside me and be my friend.
And as we walk together, there is One in the lead–one named Jesus–who is trustworthy and can be followed with confidence and joy. In him, we are made church and invited to walk together–not only as friends, but as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
In his book Open Secrets, Rick Lischer, tells about his experiences as a newly ordained Lutheran pastor in southern Illinois, including Buster Toland’s funeral. Buster was a mechanic at the local garage. His wife, Beulah, drank too much and was high on drugs most of the time. They argued loudly and profanely and bitterly and in the middle of a huge shouting match when he came home for lunch — and there was no lunch — Buster dropped dead.
“Dead before he hit the floor,” Beulah said, at least a hundred times to anyone who would listen. Buster was a rascal, and his death made the whole community feel apprehensive and worried about his utterly dysfunctional family.
Young Pastor Lischer helped Beulah through the local funeral plans and negotiations with the funeral director, which were very difficult. Beulah kept insisting on the most expensive casket and arrangements because she “owed it to Buster,” . The idealistic young minister managed to alienate the funeral director and infuriate his Board of Trustees in the process.
Finally the day for the funeral arrived, complete with the open casket in the narthex of the church. The service itself was a disaster. Beulah wailed at the top of her lungs through the service and Lischer’s sermon. He concluded quickly by reminding the congregation that Buster had been a good Marine and father and now the church would assume greater responsibility for his family. And then the congregation moved to the little cemetery on the hill behind the church. The casket was lowered into the grave. Lischer said the words of committal and it was over, and the military phase was about to begin.
Four uniformed veterans from the local VFW formed an honor guard and fired their rifles on command three times over the heads of the congregation. There was even a bugler for the occasion, twelve-year-old Moriah Seamanns, standing halfway up the hill in a pink jumper with a thin white sweater draped over her shoulders. Her new cornet caught the sunlight and she was about to give the performance of her life. Her mother stood beside her to hold her music and to steady her child. Then Moriah began to play. She did not play “Taps.” She played four stanzas of “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth,” arcing each note across the ravine toward the mourners on the hill. It was, Lischer says, “as if her music were a time-delayed message coming to us from a saner and more beautiful world.”
Standing in the lumpy mud of the cemetery, Lischer said he “could see Easter.” The ordinary is suddenly holy. Everyday experiences can become sacred. At the unlikeliest of moments – remember that the Risen Christ appears…and we meet him again…perhaps for the first time.
So when we are on our own road to Emmaus, we can remember to raise our eyes so that we don’t miss the fact that Jesus is walking next to us. Jesus – the risen Lord – is always on the road with us. That’s what He promised us – “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age”. Amen.
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