Preached on 30 April 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Where do you find a point of connection in the gospel story – on the road to Emmaus? It is such a rich story, there are many possibilities.
Where do you see St. John’s on that long road? Is there a detail that particularly catches your attention?
One of the details that catches me is that these two men are leaving town, leaving Jerusalem and heading to Emmaus. They’re sad, dejected. At first, you might think, “well, of course! Someone they love has died a horrible death!”
Except – as the story unfolds, we learn that they have already heard the Good News. They were there when the women came with news about the empty tomb and the angels’ message. And even if they couldn’t bring themselves to believe the women, they were there when Peter goes and checks it out and verifies what the women have said.
Still, they’re sad and dejected. They decide to get out of town – but not to Galilee, to Emmaus. There are so many other responses they could have chosen: like go try to find Jesus, or even wait and see what happens next.
A clue is in those three little words, “we had hoped…” They had hoped that Jesus would be the one who would free Israel from Rome. But that doesn’t happen. They’re grieving for what they have lost – a beloved leader and unfulfilled hopes. They aren’t ready to discover what God has done; what God is still doing.
So, Jesus meets them on the road of their grief. He listens to their story and hears about their dashed hopes. Then, he helps them to see with new eyes; to hear their Scriptures with new ears; to understand what God is doing in Jesus Christ.
And their hearts burn within them.
Finally, they see Jesus when he breaks the bread at dinner. It’s just a fleeting moment, but enough to inspire them to return that very hour to Jerusalem to tell the others.
They had hoped, but now they see
Rome was just the latest of the powerful empires that had overpowered and occupied the land and people of Israel. Before them there had been Assyria and Babylon and Persia, and the list goes on. And Rome wouldn’t be the last.
The Powers of the world come and go.
The Problems of the world come and go or change.
But God endures, God abides.
What God does in Jesus is bigger than Rome and perhaps the point is that God doesn’t have to overthrow the powers of the world in order to accomplish God’s work, God’s plan. The most powerful empire of the day cannot stop God.
Now that’s worth thinking about.
God doesn’t overthrow Rome because it’s not necessary. Rome can continue on and still, God accomplishes God’s plan. As big and powerful and seemingly consequential as Rome is, Rome doesn’t matter. If even Rome doesn’t matter, what Superpower does? What could?
Two men on the road to Emmaus, sad and dejected despite the empty tomb. That is not what they had hoped for. “We had hoped,” they told Jesus. “We had hoped that he was the one to free Israel.”
They had hoped that the Messiah would redeem them from Rome.
God redeems not from Rome, but rather, through Christ, God redeems us from the power of death. God redeems us from the power of sin. God redeems us from whatever is holding us back from God.
But perhaps more important is what God redeems us for. God redeems us for life, for fullness of life. God redeems us for love. God redeems us for relationship with Godself.
In our Epistle this morning, Peter puts it this way, “Through Christ, you have come to trust in God… so that your faith and hope are set on God.”
Now I don’t think the lesson is “Don’t hope or plan or pray for specific things.” Rather, I think the lesson is for us to be open to what God is doing, even while we hope and pray and plan; to be open to what God is calling us to do. It is to pay attention and notice when our hearts are burning within us.
This is especially true as we go along this road of transition in the parish. We hope and we pray; we plan and we carry on our ministries in the community.
And as we do, we pay attention – what is God already doing here? What makes our hearts burn within us?
It’s also true as we confront the powers of the world. When it seems overwhelming; when “we had hoped” is dashed, look for what God has done and is doing. What makes our hearts burn within us?
May we remember that ultimately, as Peter writes, “Through Christ, we have come to trust in God, who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory, so that our faith and hope are set on God.”
And may our “we had hoped” turn into
“I have seen the Lord! Christ is risen indeed.”