The context for this sermon is an ecumenical Christian service of the word in the chapel of a large, high-acuity teaching hospital.
The text is Luke 24:13-31.
I have used some ideas from the following websites in this sermon:
* Working Preacher
* Beatitudes Society
Cleopas and his companion are in shock.
They didn’t go to Jerusalem just because they were curious onlookers who heard about Jesus and the controversy that surrounded him. And they didn’t go there to see the equivalent of a first century soap opera: to see whether Jesus would make a play for power this Passover or to see how the Roman Empire would respond to him.
Cleopas and his companion were disciples of Jesus. Obviously, they were not part of the closest twelve disciples, but they were disciples nonetheless. Jesus was their Rabbi, their teacher and their Messiah. They believed in him.
They went to Jerusalem because they believed him when he said that the Messiah had to die but would rise again in three days. And so they stayed in Jerusalem and they waited for the resurrection. They waited for the resurrection that the women witnessed in the verses just prior to this story, but somehow they missed it.
The passage tells us that on the very same day that the women witnessed the empty tomb, that Cleopas and his companion started their journey back to Emmaus convinced that their hope had been in vain.
And, as they made their way back to Emmaus from Jerusalem, they were in shock and in mourning. They had had so many hopes and dreams and now all of these were shattered. Jesus had not risen from the tomb. Jesus was dead, and all the hopes and dreams that they had invested in him were dead too.
Everything that they had hoped that he would do for them was dead. They had lost Jesus and any living relationship that they had hoped to have with him in the future had also disappeared.
Like everyone who loses a loved one, Cleopas and his companion were in shock. Their world had been turned upside down and they didn’t know what to do.
How ironic, then, that when Jesus appears in their midst, their souls are so clouded with shock and pain and mourning that they don’t recognize him. In fact, they tell him: “You must be the only person in the entire city of Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s going on!” They think that it’s Jesus who is clueless about reality when, in fact, it is they who are temporarily blind. They believe that God is dead when, in fact, God is walking with them right at that very moment.
Where is God in All of This?
Reading this story in this way made me chuckle a bit to myself because I do this too:
God can be right there with me in my journey and I don’t recognize the divine presence. God can be right there relating to me, trying to communicate, trying to teach me and show me the truth, and I don’t recognize it.
I say that I believe that God is present in every situation, but like a lot of people, I only partly believe it. Now there are times when I recognize God in the middle of my messes. But, like Cleopas and his companion, there are also times when it is only after the event that I realize that God was there all along.
And one of the things that I find comforting about this passage is that Jesus doesn’t get fed up. He’s walking and walking with these two men for a few hours and they are telling them about their lost hopes and dreams. They are telling him about how God was not present in the events of Holy Week and Easter after all.
But Jesus doesn’t walk away. He doesn’t get fed up. He doesn’t throw up his hands and declare: “Well, if they can’t see me standing in front of them, why am I even bothering?” Jesus just keeps walking with them.
Jesus also doesn’t get annoyed with them because they are grieving and in shock and in pain. Jesus doesn’t run away from their pain and their grief. He just stays with them. He accepts them as they are and doesn’t abandon them because it would be a lot easier emotionally to make the journey on his own.
Jesus just sticks with them and keeps on walking.
If this story is anything to go by, God continues to walk with us during our times of challenge and isn’t all that easily put off.
It can happen that during difficult times we ask ourselves the question “Where is God in all of this?”. This story suggests to me that the answer is that God is right here. Just like the story of the footprints in the sand: we think that God has abandoned us when, in fact, God is the only thing that is keeping us going.
We Had Hoped
The other aspect of the story that touched my soul was when Cleopas and his companion outlined to this presumed stranger their failed hope “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
Because all of us also have failed hopes:
•“We had hoped that that this would be the doctor who could help our loved one recover.”
•“He had hoped that she would call.”
•“They had hoped that their son would come back from Iraq.”
•“We had hoped that this was going to be the company that would hire him.”
•“We had hoped that our child would be born healthy.”
But the stranger interrupts the travelers’ litany of grief and despair and he demonstrates to them that there is a bigger picture. He shows them that this story of Jesus is part of an ancient story of God’s saving action in the world.
God’s story is woven into the story of humanity. Jesus helps them to see that there is another way to look at this story.
The disciples had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel but they had hoped for the kind of victory that the world understands. And they were still hoping for that kind of victory, for that kind of resurrection.
On this first day of Easter, it was still way too early for these disciples to understand that God was offering them a completely different sort of redemption than the one that they expected.
God is With Us
I love this story because it is a story of God’s presence with us in all the aspects of a life of faith.
It’s a story of God’s presence with us in the breaking of the bread: God is with us in the ordinary things of life and God is with us when we gather as a Church community at the Lord’s Supper.
But it’s also a story of God with us in our faith journey: God with us when we don’t recognize God’s presence. God’s sticking with us when we are in shock, in grief, when we are confused and even when we presume to lecture God incorrectly about what God is all about!
This story is certainly a story of the assurance of God’s persistence in being present with us.
But there is also a lesson in the story: if we look around and we don’t see God, maybe we need to look again and shift our own preconceptions of where God might be.
My prayer for all of us this morning is that, as we go through this week, we will know the assurance of God’s presence and, carrying that faith with us, that we will look for God even in the most unlikely of places.