Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
April 26, 2020
Luke 24:13-35 – Common English Bible
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.
17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19 He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26 Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.
A little boy packed a lunch and decided to go on a journey by himself longer than he had ever been on before. It was the day after his grandmother died. For this extra-long trip he packed a larger than usual lunch – four packs of Twinkies and two cans of root beer. He walked by himself to a park at least four blocks beyond where he had ever gone alone. He took a seat on a bench where an older woman was already sitting. Together, they watched the pigeons. After a while, he took out a pack of Twinkies. As he was eating, he glanced over at the woman and offered her one. She gave him a big smile and accepted it gratefully. He thought she had the most beautiful smile in the world and wanted to see it again, so he offered her a can of root beer. Once again, she gave him the most beautiful smile he had ever seen.
For a long while, the two of them simply sat together on that park bench eating Twinkies, sipping on their root beer, and watching the pigeons. Neither said a word. Finally, the boy realized it was getting late and he should be on his way home. He took a few steps and then turned back and gave the woman a big hug. Her smile was bigger and brighter than ever.
His mother had started to worry, so she was relieved to see him walk back in the house. She also noticed his mood had changed. “What did you do today?” she asked. “Oh, I had lunch in the park… with God.” Before she could reply, he added, “And you know what? She has the most beautiful smile in the world!”
Meanwhile the woman arrived back home – or rather, at her son’s home. Her husband had died recently, and she had moved in with him and his family. It was the first time in a long time that her son had seen her smile. He asked, “What did you do today, mom?” “Oh, I ate Twinkies and drank root beer in the park… with God. And you know what? God’s a lot younger than I ever imagined.”
I suspect encounters like this are much more common than we think. I mean, I suspect – I’m sure – we meet God a lot more often than we would ever imagine. We just may not have noticed very much during ordinary times – swallowed up by schedules that actually controlled us. Work and sitting in traffic, school and homework and lessons and sports, shopping and work outs, volunteer obligations and ski weekends. God has always been present. And yet, consumed by our busy lives, we may have failed to notice. In fact, so certain of being in control of our own normal, we may have felt little need.
Things are definitely different today. All of us are living with a collective sense of loss. Whether normal was good or bad, we miss “normal.” Perhaps some patience and good will too. We may be missing things we never even had. Missing things we didn’t even know were “a thing.” Like smiles now hidden by masks. Hugs. Man, do I miss hugs. Heck, I’d even settle for a good old handshake. And regular routines. Who ever thought routines were “a thing” we could miss? That’s grief. And it’s normal. We are all grieving normal.
Not that normal was always so great. Some of it was horrible. We have come to think it’s normal that when the president speaks, half of it will be a lie and half of it will be cruel – interspersed with absurd moments about injecting disinfectants that leave us speechless. Even for this guy, that’s not normal. It’s not normal to have a president like this, but we have come to believe it is normal when he parrots white supremacy and calls them good people. It is normal that he will look for every opportunity possible to make money off the presidency – even hawking dangerous drug therapies. And it is normal that we don’t know how to handle this. Should we be perpetually angry? Taking to the streets? Should we simply turn off the news and wait until November 4th to hear how it all worked out?
There is some good news in all of this, however. We may be open to changes we would never have been before. Jeremy referenced an article on Friday that has been making the rounds for a few weeks entitled Prepare for the Ultimate Gaslighting. The author said, “What has happened to us is inexplicably incredible. It’s the greatest gift ever unwrapped. Not the deaths, not the virus, but The Great Pause. It is, in a word, profound. What the crisis has given us is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see ourselves and our country in the plainest of views.” The Great Pause.
He asks under what other circumstance would our lives come to a complete standstill and give us a wide-open view of the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, how we live wastefully and wonderfully. But, he cautioned, we better hurry up and decide what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of because before we are ready, marketers will flood the airwaves with their ideas of what we can buy to make our lives feel normal again. To even make us to forget the promise of the Great Pause. The opportunity is now. Like never before. Except, that’s a lot to ask of people experiencing collective loss. It’s hard to make decisions while you are grieving.
The article is a seriously good read. I will caution that it is full of middle-class privilege. Not everyone has the opportunity to make significant changes in their lives. Even so, take the time to check it out. I’ve put a link on our social media.
And, I see this promise in the church, too. The church can never only be what we were. We have the unique opportunity to pause so we can choose what we add back to our normal life as a congregation. But, grief alert. Some of what used to be normal will not be part of our new normal –because we will have no choice.
Yet, some good news, because of all this loss and upheaval, we are looking. Searching, perhaps like never before. Seriously looking for hope. And meaning. And depth. Connections and real relationships. We are looking for encouragement. And God. We are looking… Today’s scripture invites us to ask what, if anything, prevents us from seeing. Why were the disciples on the road to Emmaus “prevented” from recognizing Jesus?
Edward Hayes, author of Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, offers another version of the Emmaus story. His story goes like this: “On the first day of the week, the apostles Peter, James, and John, were afraid they would be arrested next, so they fled from Jerusalem for their safety. At sunset, they stopped at a small inn along the road, at the edge of Emmaus, for something to eat. They slipped in quietly and took their seats in a dark corner. They spoke in hushed voices about the death of their Master, discussing all the things that had happened in just a couple of days. And how they had hoped he was the one who would liberate their people.
A Greek slave woman came over to their table and poured wine into their cups. She asked, “Why are you men so sad? You look like you’ve lost your best friend.” Peter replied impatiently, “Woman, we have, but that’s no business of yours. Go and do your work.” “Sir,” she replied, “I too know the pain of a broken heart; I too know the great pain of losing a dear friend. But death is not the end of love.”
And then, to their surprise, she took one of those wine-filled wooden cups and pronounced a blessing over it and said, “Take and drink, this is…” John jumped to his feet, “Master!” In an instant, the woman vanished from their eyes.
I have always loved this story of the encounter between Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Although today, I immediately want to know if they were walking six feet apart. And did Jesus use hand sanitizer before breaking the bread?
They walked together for about three miles, talking through their grief. Jesus had just been executed on Friday. The next day was Sabbath. On Sunday morning the women disciples discovered an open tomb. Dazed and unbelieving, this was their first opportunity to walk back home. When they arrived at the edge of town, they invited the stranger who had been accompanying them to eat with them. It was in their offer of hospitality that Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
I don’t know why they may have been prevented from understanding before. Was there some divine purpose? Was it the fog of grief? But clearly words weren’t enough. And I can appreciate that. When my mind wanders, when I’m distracted, uninterested, unmotivated, there are moments of grace. For example, the taste of communion bread can surprise our dulled senses with a word of God’s grace; a sacrament that says, “I’m here with you.” There’s no need to understand it.
Janet Weiblen said, “It’s a gift, when we see; never a demand to see. The fact that Jesus disappears as soon as the disciples recognize him is a reminder that God’s presence is always dancing at the edge of awareness and perception.” At the edge, and always there.
But just know that, if you can’t see it, if you can’t feel it, if you can’t taste it, or you can’t believe it right now, it’s normal. It’s OK. And I’m right there with you. Me too. Like with any grief, sometimes I bounce back and forth between hope and anger and acceptance several times a day. Jeremy described our times as living with spiritual whiplash. Yes, these times are full of promise. The Great Pause is a real thing. Yet that doesn’t make us any less full of loss and a longing for normal. And impatient to know when we finally are going to get to a place we can call normal. When will our new normal get here? Whether it’s good or bad, I can’t help but want it to get here sooner than later.
But, bottom line, whether our lives are on a Great Pause or as boring as ever, Jesus walks alongside us. Surprising us with moments of grace. Not bright flashes of light. But something as simple as sitting on a park bench, eating Twinkies, sipping root beer… with God.
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world