Sermon: Third Sunday of Easter: A Larger Story
Third Sunday of Easter: A Larger Story
April 26, 2020

What the heck is going on here?

I admit it. I’ve nearly lost my patience.  

I want this to be over.  No more pandemic.  No more physical distancing.  No more uncertainty.  No more life upside down.  

I’ve had it.  How about you? 

Yes, I want to learn from this crisis. Yes, I hope all of us learn something from this crisis. I don’t want things to go back to just the way they were before, to business as usual. I want us to come through this time better; to live more sustainably, compassionately, justly, gratefully, and joyfully. And although I believe that God is as present to us in this crisis as God was before the crisis and will be after the crisis, I feel ready for it to be over.

Like many of us during this pandemic, the disciples on the road to Emmaus are trying to make sense of what is happening in their lives that have been turned upside down.  Everything they thought they understood about their lives and their hopes for the future was shattered when Jesus died on the cross.  Though they had heard the witness of the women and the disciples that Jesus was raised, they did not understand what this meant and they did not experience it for themselves. 

All they knew was that Jerusalem was in chaos, the One they thought was their Savior was dead, and they had to get home to Emmaus. Along the way, on the 7 mile walk, the two of them tried to make sense of what had happened to Jesus.  It was not what they expected, not what they had come to Jerusalem for.  They were sad and confused,  as we are when someone we love dies, especially in a way we didn’t see coming. Worse yet, their hopes for a new kind of life for themselves and their people were crushed.  They believed that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.  To their eyes, this was NOT what happened. 

Many of us face times in our lives when we just don’t understand what is going on; when our worlds are rocked by the grief of losing someone who meant the world to us; when our hoped for future is robbed by something we just didn’t see coming – like serious illness, a relationship break-up, job loss, or a pandemic.  Did any of us see a pandemic coming??? 

When such extraordinary events happen – especially when they are seemingly out of the blue – we can feel devastated, crushed, confused, unmoored, and uncertain. 

The two on the road to Emmaus do what we often do when such unexpected events occur, they walk and talk together.  They try to find a way to understand what they have seen and heard.  I imagine that it was the kind of conversation you can have with a dearest friend – the kind of heartfelt discussion that can follow intense disappointment and distress, one in which you don’t filter your feelings or hold back your thoughts.

Into this scene a stranger on the road approaches; someone who notices how animated the conversation is; who notices that the two are sad.  Perhaps because of the extraordinary circumstances that have unfolded with the crucifixion of Jesus, the two are willing to allow the stranger to join their conversation.   Perhaps this is what it was like on 9-11, as people fled New York on foot.  Certainly strangers were talking to each other in ways they might not have otherwise because of what happened. In the face of a community catastrophe, we often find ourselves talking more freely with people we don’t know in a way we might not have done before the crisis.

After naming what’s going on for the two on the road, this stranger begins to tell his own story of the same events..  It’s a bigger story than their story.   A much bigger story. It’s about more than foiled expectations for political change. It’s about more than what the two could immediately see in front of them.  It’s about more than how they are feeling in the moment. The stranger puts the story of their disappointment and confusion into the larger story of what God has been doing in the lives of their people since the time of Moses. The stranger puts their story into the context of God’s faithful, liberating activity in each generation. 

The stranger reminds the two that Jesus told them that he was going to suffer and die. Perhaps when Jesus said it, they didn’t want to hear it and so never  really accepted it.  (Think about those times someone has told you, “I’m going to die” and you may have responded, “Oh no… no you’re not.  Let’s not talk about that.  You’re going to be fine.”) The one who joined the conversation helps them remember what Jesus had told them all along, but they had been unwilling to accept. He offers the two a way to look at what happened in a larger way, through the lens of grace.  

Where does grace fit in the stories we are telling ourselves about our own lives, about this pandemic?  Without the lens of grace, our stories of this present moment might lead only to despair.  If all we ever did was watch CNN or Fox, or read the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, or New York Times, most of us would have reason to be distraught.  Let’s face it, our news outlets are likely to have far more stories that make us want to scream than feel that our “hearts are burning within us.” Fear sells. Outrage sells. Hope is often a passing after-thought, left for the end of the newscast or buried at the bottom of the page.

The Gospel of Luke was written approximately 25-30 years after Jesus died.  The story we hear today was written with the benefit of years of reflection. This Easter season we are in the midst of an epic story that is still being written, a story that each of us has a role in and can consciously choose to help create.  Like the story of Jesus, it is a story filled with death, fear, uncertainty and confusion. It’s also a story of God’s faithfulness and presence, hope, new life, and insight. 

The question is: can we see the grace? Can we see and share the story of grace?  Yes, the story of the pandemic is political and emotional. Right now, it feels like it’s also a detective story as scientists race to discover a vaccine. A generation from now, in 2050, what stories do we hope will be told about the time we find ourselves in now? 

The good news is that we have the opportunity right now to welcome the Risen Christ into our story, into our journey that we might be instruments of that grace. We can be like the two on the road to Emmaus and share our sadness, our disappointments, our frustrations with God and know that we are being heard.  We can place our current story within the larger story of God’s faithfulness.

At this moment, you and I are likely not going to be making new friends walking along the road, even in friendly Annisquam.  We are likely not inviting new friends (or even old friends) into our homes.  We don’t even know when we will be breaking bread again around the table with family or friends. These common everyday ways that we encounter grace in our midst are not available to us right now. How we long for them.

But there are other ways we can be part of writing a larger story; Other ways to invite Jesus to walk with us and to join us at the table, to help us make sense of what’s going on in the world and in our lives, to write a new story. The Risen Christ knows no boundaries.  We can meet him alone in our rooms in prayer and meditation. We can meet him sitting with a cup of coffee at breakfast or at the beach.  We can meet him in the beauty of a spring day. We can meet him when we go out of our way to reach out to someone in need. We can even meet him on Zoom. All that is required is our openness, our invitation to the Risen Christ to be known to us.  When we pause to reflect on the ways that we meet the Risen Christ, when we reflect on how we see God in our lives and discuss and share this with others – when we tell the story of the Good News our faith is strengthened and our hope is renewed.

One of my most beloved teachers, Frank Ostaseski created Five Precepts, spiritual practices to guide those who work with the dying, which also can be applied to our daily lives. His first precept  “Welcome Everything.  Push Away Nothing.” sounds like guidance the Risen One might have given the two on the road.  Perhaps you will also find it useful, especially now. Ostaseski writes “In welcoming everything we don’t have to like what’s arising.   It’s actually not our job to approve or disapprove.  It’s our task to trust, to listen, to pay careful attention to the changing experience.  At the deepest level, we are being asked to cultivate a fearless receptivity. This is a journey of continuous discovery in which we will always be entering new territory. We have no idea how it will turn out. We find a balance. The journey is a mystery we need to live into, opening, risking, and forgiving constantly.”

To see, share, tell, and co-create the larger story of what God is doing at this time, it’s important that we are conscious about where we are getting the material for our stories. If we are spending more time with CNN, Fox, the Boston Globe and the New York Times than we are in prayer, meditation, thoughtful conversation, time in nature, creative activities, compassionate service or sacred reading (whether from the Bible, the mystics, or others -I am happy to make a suggestion if you need it) – it may be a challenge to see, tell, and be part of the story of the grace of this time. 

By our gathering each Sunday, we take an important step – we re-enter the story of God’s faithfulness and offer our response. Here and now, you and I are continuing the story of the two on the road. At a time such as this, we are called to find creative ways to invite Jesus to stay with us a little longer – to dwell with him in whatever ways we can – so that we can find hope and become bearers of Good News for others. Our stories – the stories of our lives, the story of this pandemic – have miles to go.  

After the Risen Lord appeared to his disciples, the world was never the same. In all likelihood, after this pandemic, we won’t be the same either. Through the grace and presence of the Risen Christ in our lives, may we see, share, tell, and co-create a new story, a larger story, a story of grace, that gives hope to the world. Amen.