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Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our risen Lord Jesus Christ.
It was a long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was seven miles of dust and disappointment. It was a trail of tears as these two disciples processed what they had just seen: their beloved Lord, the one they believed to be the Messiah, the one they had left everything to follow, and been put to death in the most cruel and humiliating way possible. Their hopes were dashed. Their expectations were shattered. Their plans were ruined. All of this is summed up in the sad words of Cleopas, who said, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
It was a long walk with their heads hung low, but the risen Lord met them on this road. They didn’t recognize him, but he was there. He came to them. He wanted to hear from them. He asked what they had been talking about. “You mean you haven’t heard?” Cleopas responded, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?”
Jesus, still mysteriously unrecognizable to them, had some fun with them. He played with them a little. “What things?” he said, playing dumb. Cleopas answered: “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be crucified. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Disappointment. Dashed hopes. Despair.
The risen Lord came along side these disciples as they walked this road, and the next thing he did was lead them in a Bible study. “How foolish you are,” he said to them, “and how slow you are to believe. Don’t you realize this was all necessary? Don’t you see that it was necessary that the Messiah would suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then, beginning with Moses and the prophets, the risen Lord led them in a Bible study. He interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures.
Disappointment. Dashed hopes. Despair. Have you ever experienced any of those things? That’s a pretty silly question these days, of course. We’re all experiencing these things to one degree or another. We’re all walking a long road right now with this pandemic, wondering when it will end.
Some of us are experiencing disappointment. “I had hoped that this would all be over before opening day of baseball.” “I had hoped the kids might be able to go back to school for a couple of months.” “I had hoped to be able to get in that trip over spring break.”
Some are experiencing dashed hopes. “I had hoped we’d be back in the sanctuary in time for Easter.” “I had hoped my high school senior might still get to go to prom.” “I had hoped to be able to visit my mother on her 70th birthday.”
Some are experiencing despair. “I had hoped I would be able to keep my job.” “I had hoped to keep my business from going under.” I even spoke to one of our members this week who is grieving for a dear friend who died from COVID-19.
Some have been walking this long road well before any of us ever heard of coronavirus. Some have had their hopes dashed by a divorce or the loss of a loved one or a chronic illness other than COVID-19. Some have already spent a long time wondering what the heck happened to Jesus? Where is he? We had hoped. We had hoped….
This story tells us something important about the Christian life, especially when we’re walking that long road of disappointment, dashed hopes, and despair. Our risen Lord Jesus comes to us. He walks with us on that road. We can’t always see him. We don’t always recognize his presence. But he comes to us. He comes to us, and he wants to hear from us. He wants to know what troubles us. He already knows, of course, but he wants to hear it from us.
But Jesus doesn’t just listen, he also speaks. He speaks to us through his Word. Jesus encourages us to find him in his Word, just as he did for Cleopas and the other disciple. What did they say about this time with Jesus on the road and in the Word? They said their heart were burning within them as he opened the scriptures to them. As their heads started to light up with understanding of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross, their hearts started to burn with faith in him,
These disciples fully recognized Jesus when they broke bread with him. The words used when Jesus “took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them,” are almost identical to the language used at the Last Supper, drawing the inevitable connection to Holy Communion. It was in this holy meal that their eyes were opened, and afterwards they were out in the streets declaring that the Lord was risen indeed. There is some poignancy to this scene right now as we are unable to gather for Holy Communion ourselves. But we know that the Lord has made himself known to us also in the breaking of the bread, and he will do so again someday soon.
In the meantime, as you walk the long road, as you experience disappointment and dashed hopes and despair, know that Christ Jesus is right there beside you, even if you don’t see him, even if you don’t recognize him.
Turn to him in prayer, casting all your burdens on him, He wants to hear it!
Look for him in the scriptures. They are all about him and what he has done for you. Find him there and your hearts will burn within you with hope and peace and joy.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia, and amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer