Third Sunday of Easter, 4.26.20

How are we supposed to live? Are we to live in our disappointments OR our hopes?

This is an important question but especially NOW during a pandemic. Do we live in our disappointments or our hopes? They asked him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? He asked them, “What things?”

We have a similar question we could ask. We say, is there anyone on this planet, who does not know about the corona virus? There doesn’t seem to be a person anywhere who doesn’t know about it. It has reached to every corner of the globe. If the people of the Fiji Islands don’t have it, then they certainly KNOW about it.

What’s Jesus doing when he asks this question? He is using a common technique that teachers use. Teachers often ask a ‘dumb’ question of their students in order to evoke and find out what the students already know. I might ask my students in high school, why is the sky blue? Or what purpose do the witches serve in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth? And then I’d get all kinds of answers, and I could tell if the students understood the material. Depending on the answers I get from the students, I might have to reteach the material.

Jesus is in the role of the Teacher again, and he reviews with these two people one who is Cleopas, what had happened. The gospel names Cleopas, but not the other person. It could have been his wife. It doesn’t necessarily have to be two men. Women were disciples, maybe that’s why the second person wasn’t named.

So, what we find is that Cleopas and his wife are poor students, and Jesus, as a good Teacher, reviews the material, clears up their misconceptions, and sets them straight. He says, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” People did not expect a suffering Messiah, when their minds are set on a warrior king like David. Now Jesus has their full attention, no distractions, and they are ready and able to absorb what he is teaching them, despite their sorrow.

Jesus allows them to SPEAK their anguish and sorrow. He allows them to speak their crushing disappointments. “How our chief priest and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.” Cleopas and wife express their most bitter disappointments, and Jesus gives them room to do so. They name Jesus as, “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” who suffered the cruelest of deaths reserved for the most shameful of criminals. Stripped, exposed, brutalized, placed between two criminals as if he were a third criminal. Mocked, tormented, raised on a cross so that people could revile and use him as the target of their basest and lowest impulses and insults. All hell was let loose on him at Calvary. They didn’t hold back.

No wonder Cleopas and his wife are crushed. It would appear that Jesus lost the battle. He died. He died and that’s the end of it because without question, death always has the final answer. What did he accomplish? They had all seen him die. End of story. Death WINS, AGAIN, as death always wins when wielded by the powerful against the powerLESS. Despite Jesus before the crucifixion telling his disciples that he will die but then be raised on the third day; it was all beyond their imagining.

Cleopas and his wife may anticipate that they will be scattered to the four winds; they will have to run, like sheep who have lost their shepherd. NOW, they too will be at the mercy of the WOLVES who will sniff them out and destroy them as they had certainly destroyed Jesus.

We wonder: what does Jesus say to open their hearts and make them BURN? Certainly, he must say something about the Son of Man has to suffer and die on the cross as the only way to take on the ENEMY of this world. That in order to defeat SIN and change the world, he has to take on all of the violence and cruelty the world has to give. Not as a warrior king like David, but as the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. Perhaps, Jesus is revealing to Cleopas and his wife that he is the Suffering Servant of the book of Isaiah, and that is why their hearts BURN in recognition. It rings TRUE.

As theologian Fleming Rutledge says he opens their minds that, “He will create a new humanity, . . . He will do this precisely on the cross. He will accomplish his work as the sacrificial Lamb of God.”[1] When Jesus speaks, he no doubt gives them the bigger picture, perhaps a cosmic picture, from the beginning of time. God’s intent when God spoke the world into being, then through the prophets and up to the present moment, and where Jesus, the Messiah has to suffer but is ultimately raised from the dead.

When students are given the bigger picture, their minds can expand, too, and their hearts BURN. Jesus sets them straight. He opens their minds that The Lamb of God is here, victorious for us other LAMBS. Jesus makes good on his promise: there will be “ONE flock, and ONE shepherd.”

As Jesus speaks to them, he opens their hearts; it starts to make sense. The students are learning: their hearts BURN.

The climax of his lesson is at the table: they recognize him in the breaking of the bread. At that table, their crushing disappointments are turned into victory and hope.

Jesus let them speak their disappointments and uncertainties. Sometimes WE may be afraid that if we speak our disappointments we’ll get swamped by the grief. Let’s take a chance and speak them, even quietly to ourselves. What are YOUR disappointments during this pandemic? Has Jesus showed up for you?

Is it any accident that Jesus appears to them on a road? The road is where disciples should be. After Jesus disappears, “They got up and returned to Jerusalem” They heard Jesus, they spoke with him, he TAUGHT them, they LEARNED; their hearts burned; they know what he said was TRUE. It was TRUTH as he had said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. They eat with him, and now the good news is SO GOOD, they have to get up and TELL the others.

That is discipleship.

It’s lived on the road, going from here to there, from doubt to faith, from sorrow to joy, from dread to conviction. They speak of what Jesus has done for them. He LIVES. He has defeated death for them. For US.

The road appears in Mark’s story of the resurrection, too. The angels tell the women “He is not here . . . he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” The women RUN forward to meet him, “with terror and amazement” . . . and they were afraid.

On the road.

Where do we meet Jesus? On the road. The apostles hit the road, their feet full of hope.

Is the internet ever a road for us to proclaim the GOOD NEWS?

As theologian Debbie Thomas says, this is an Easter story, and it’s a quiet one.[2] There are no giant stones being pushed aside. No Roman soldiers quivering like they are dead. No angels making a spectacular entrance. Today’s gospel story happened on EASTER, but it’s a quiet story, a subtle one of questions and answers, and the most spectacular things are the hearts burning. And the RECOGNITION of Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

It may be quiet, this is our subtle God at work here, but it is very REAL nonetheless.

Do you have any stories of recognizing Christ in a quiet way?

What are your thoughts about the quiet Jesus, the subtle God?

Has Jesus showed up for you quietly?

Maybe this is an even more important appearance than the ones with angels.

Earlier, I had asked do we live in our disappointments OR our hopes? This is an Easter story full of doubt and misgivings, anguish, sorrow, and disappointments. It’s a very honest story full of a range of emotions. Let’s face it, this Emmaus road is not always easy. Our own personal roads may have been full of boulders, potholes, ditches, and swamps. Finding Christ on our roads may not always be easy.

What are your hopes during this pandemic? Can you be specific?

Does it feel foolish to have hope?

How does HOPE change things?

Does hope change anything?

Do you have hope for the larger community or our country that it might be changed for the better?

I thank you, Lord, for giving us a very REAL story. It has doubts and confusion, anguish and disappointment that you allow your disciples to speak. You know our hearts; what confusions live there. We ask that you banish our confusion and replace doubt with true and deeper faith in you. We know you live in us, quietly, softly but REAL nonetheless.

We thank you that your Son is here with us. CHRIST IS RISEN. HE IS RISEN indeed. ALLELUIA. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

[1] Fleming Rutledge. Three Hours: Sermons for Good Friday.Eerdmans: Grand Rapids. 2019.