Saturday, April 25, 2020


Our Gospel lesson from Luke chapter 24,
     is the story of the Risen Lord appearing to
     two disciples on the road to their home in Emmaus
     after the crucifixion. 

“We had hoped he was the one,” they said. 
“We had hoped.”
It’s supposed to be Easter, right?
But our Gospel story begins in dejection.

 Clopas and his companion had seen sorrow all their days.
The nameless disciple is probably nameless 
         because she was a woman.
It wasn’t the greatest time and place especially for women.
She and Clopas lived in a poor country 
        where life was short and hard.
Their ancestors had been a great empire,
     but the empire feuded, then split,
     and in its weakened state, it was conquered.
10 of Israel’s 12 tribes had been deported, scattered,
and lost forever.

The remaining two were overrun by Assyrians, 
then Babylonians, then Persians, 
then Greeks, and finally Rome.
They were a defeated, disgraced people,
     living under foreign rule, which respected 
                 neither their culture nor their God.
Then along came Jesus and gave them hope.

They had hoped Jesus would drive out the Romans
     and restore the independent kingdom of David.
They had hoped things would get back 
           to the good old days.
“We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel,” 
         they said. 
“We had hoped.” A poignant past perfect tense. 

Then came Good Friday.
The bloody humiliation of their hero
     showed how wrong they had been,
     how foolish to have hoped
                 that things could be different.
It turned out: the world is as it is. 
They were as they were.
Hope dashed and discarded.
They walked morosely home as the sun was going down.

Maybe you know how they felt.
We may not live in a conquered nation.
But we know that life is often disappointing 
           to say the least.
We know full well what Coleridge meant by
     “the tears in the nature of things.”

So many of us have at one time or another
found some kind of deliverance.
It may have been a relationship with another person
     we thought could make everything ok
                 like in the love songs.
Or maybe we thought  we could make it ok for our children 
                 even if it hadn’t been so great for us,
     and they would become the people 
                we should have been.

We may have found our hope in a new psychology
     or diet or exercise plan or investment strategy.
There are as many paths to redemption 
as there are slot machines on my old pastoral setting,
the Las Vegas Strip.

So we have placed our hope in this or that redemption.
We may even have tried the Christian faith,
     but if we tried to practice it on our own,
                 we found out pretty quick, that doesn’t work.
Christianity is a team sport. It’s a family meal.

So to place our faith in Jesus, we had to place our faith 
         in his Body, to invest ourselves in a church.
And maybe we found one
     where the worship felt holy, the sermon was uplifting,
                 and the people were friendly.
And we thought, “I am home now. 
This is a safe place.” 

But before long,
     we discovered that even the best of churches
     all have the same problem.
They are infested with people, 
some clergy, some laity, but all people,
     and we don’t check our human frailty 
                 at the narthex door.

Our church may have done something 
      unjust, insensitive, or morally wrong.
Maybe the priest said something or did something
     that a priest should never do.
The people may have resorted to power politics
     or character assassination.
The church we thought was the Body of Christ,
     the demonstration model for the Kingdom of God,
     turned out to be, in Nietzsche’s words,
           “human, all too human.”
Each of us has our own version of this story.
Each of us has found our path to redemption
     and has seen it come to a dead end.
That’s how it was for Clopas and his companion,
     on the road to Emmaus.
That’s the road where they met Jesus,
     but they didn’t recognize him.
He wasn’t the same old Jesus as before.

When we have been disappointed
     it’s hard, it’s very hard, to open our hearts again
             especially to something new.
Disappointment falls over our eyes like cataracts.
That may be why it took the disciples all day 
     and into the night to even recognize their Savior.

But let’s give them credit.
Even in their despondent mood,
     they were willing to walk the road with a stranger.

Better yet, they were willing to open their minds
     and to study the Scripture.
Many of us are so sure we already know 
       what the Bible says about this or that –
so sure we know the Bible’s basic themes.
But the deeper I go into the Holy Scriptures,
     the more wild, wonderful, and surprising they become.
If we assume we know what the Bible says,
     if we stop with a simple literal reading,
                 it closes our minds.

The simple literal meaning of the texts 
Jesus was teaching Clopas and his friend that day
     did not// point to a crucified messiah.
It took a bold new way of reading the Bible
     to open their hearts.
Jesus gave them a new creative, imaginative, 
     fresh interpretation,
     and to their credit, they listened.

And to their credit, 
     they welcomed the stranger into their home.
How often do we come to a church 
     or any path of redemption,
     wanting to be healed and consoled ourselves?
But the healing and consolation never happen
     until we drop that agenda for self,
                 and serve or welcome someone else.

So the disciples and Jesus broke bread together.
It wasn’t a worship service. 
There was no altar or prayer book.
There were no vestments, candles, or fair linens.
But it was a Eucharist. 
They hadn’t expected it to be a Eucharist.
They weren’t in a holy place. It was their house.
It wasn’t a religious ritual. But there it was.

After hearing the good news from Scripture –
they joined innocently in this simple domestic meal
 –  with no grand spiritual expectation.
In that moment, they recognized the Lord.
They opened their eyes and saw Jesus.
Then Clopas and his friend got it right again.
They hurried by night back to Jerusalem
     to share the good news with the other disciples.

But Jesus had been there too – appearing to Simon
– at the same time.
Stop. How did that happen?
Jesus was now appearing to people 
       in different places at once.
Wonders just keep multiplying 
        when broken hearted people 
share good news with each other. 

So what might we learn from our story?
The first lesson is about dejection.
It happens.
It is a common part of the spiritual life
maybe even a necessary part of the spiritual life.
Masters like St. Ignatius Loyola 
       and St. John of the Cross thought so. 
Necessary because dejection is the opportunity 
to open our hearts to grace in a new way,
                 perhaps a deeper redemption
                 than we had hoped for to begin with.

Disappointment is the opportunity 
     to open our hearts and minds
     to grace from the lips of a stranger.
But it turns out grace shows us 
       the Bible means something quite different 
       from what we had thought.
Grace slips into our lives through the back door,
     through the ordinary, simple, humble 
                 actions of daily life, especially
while we were helping or befriending someone else.

The eyes of these disciples were opened
when Jesus broke the bread.
“Open” is one of the most frequently used verbs 
     in the Gospels for what Jesus does.
He opens eyes. He  opens ears.  He opens graves.
Given half a chance, 
       he’ll open our minds, open our hearts.

May Jesus open our minds to his truth
and our hearts to each other.
“Be present, be present Lord Jesus,
     as you were present to the disciples,
            and be known to us in the breaking of the bread."