Sermons

VicarSharonRichterSermon for Third Sunday of Easter

Road to Emmaus
By Vicar Sharon Richter -

 

When Does Jesus Come to Us? Part 2
 

 Last week I asked you to think about when you have hid, when you have been terrified, and when you have doubted. We talked about how Jesus comes to us precisely in those moments, bearing us up and helping us through those difficult times. And those moments are also times when God can work faith in us.
 

 Today we’re going to explore three more scenarios.
 

 First, when have you lost someone you loved? This has happened to many of us. We are grief stricken, and often the grief lingers a long time.  Sometimes we feel like we can’t go on. Over time, some well-meaning folks urge to get back to living. But we’re not ready. Grief has it’s own timeline, and nobody should be telling you when yours should end.
 

 The disciples on the road to Emmaus are in this situation. The man they loved is gone. Life will never be the same.  Their grief is so intense that they do not even recognize the risen Jesus when he comes and walks with them. They talk to the seeming stranger, telling him everything about the man they have loved and lost.
 

 This is how it often is in grief. We love to talk about the one we have lost, even when other people don’t know the person. Talking about their quirks and habits, the things we did together, helps to keep our loved one close. Jesus is there to listen, even when we don’t recognize him. Jesus is patient and kind, not in any hurry. Jesus knows it will take as long as it will take for the grief to ease.
 

 That friend or loved one who stays with us through all that needs to be said, and all the time that needs to pass, and all the silences in between—Jesus is part of that.
 

  quote comeAndSeeThe second scenario is related to the first, but larger.  When have you felt like you lost everything? Everything you worked for, everything you pinned your hopes and dreams on, and everything you imagined about your future. Not everyone has had this experience, but for those who have, my heart goes out to you.
 

 The disciples on the road to Emmaus are in exactly that condition. They are disoriented because their world has suddenly spun out of control.  It’s the man they believed would redeem all of Israel who has been arrested and murdered in the most cruel and degrading way possible.  Crucifixion, as we discussed last week, is a horror. But it is also a humiliation.
 

Hebrew law did not prescribe crucifixion as a punishment, but in Deuteronomy it tells us that “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang [his corpse] on a tree, it must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” The brief display of an executed person’s corpse was meant to humiliate and scare the person’s associates by saying, “This is what someone cursed by God looks like!” The Jewish perception of God’s curse was also useful for the Romans, as you might imagine.
 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus are perhaps discussing this humiliation and the possibility that Jesus was cursed by God.  How could this happen? Everything they believed has just been stripped away!
 

But, again, who shows up at precisely that moment? Jesus comes to us, not only in our moments of greatest grief, but when everything is collapsing around us and we feel hopeless, confused and desperate.
 

Jesus listened to the disciples in their grief, but he also reinterpreted the scriptures to them.  None of the disciples had fully understood before Jesus’ death exactly who he was, though Jesus told them more than once. How could they? I’m sure they thought he was speaking metaphorically when he spoke of his Father and how he must die and be raised.
 

Jesus came to the disciples, and us, to help us finally understand the prophecies and the great truth revealed in his life, death, and resurrection. Jesus helps them to see that it is precisely the itty bitty lamb, the weakest of creatures, who triumphs through what seems to be a humiliating death of condemnation on the cross. It is in surrendering to God’s will, in atoning for our sins, that Jesus fulfills his destiny and brings us all back to God, and on to everlasting life.
 

Jesus also comes to us in our desperation. If we listen to Jesus, he will reinterpret for us whatever calamity has just happened. Make no mistake, I’m not saying there is a “silver lining” in every terrible thing—that bad things always happen for a reason. That kind of pat theology can be terribly damaging. On the contrary.  Life happens—earth events, human cruelty, and random accidents—and is not choreographed by a puppet master God in the sky. Some of it is just going to be awful. What I’m saying instead is that Jesus comes to us in those moments of life’s randomness or cruelty, and can help us to find a way forward.
 

So Jesus comes to us in our grief, and in our desperation.  When else does Jesus come? Jesus comes to us in our self-importance.
 

Have you ever had a time when you thought you had the answers, and you were very sure of yourself, but you were wrong? That kind self-importance beckons Jesus to help us see the truth.
 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus, though grief-stricken, have a moment of self-importance when they think the stranger is uninformed. Cleopus says to Jesus, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place?" It is that kind of self-importance that perhaps Jesus reacts to sternly when he begins to correct their understanding: "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe,” he says.
 

 Are we sometimes foolish, and slow of heart? You better believe we are. Jesus might be stern with us when setting us straight, but ultimately he will be with us in a place of grace. We are forgiven. We make a new start, relying on Jesus to guide us.
 

And Jesus does guide us, by being there with us when we are hiding, when we’re terrified, when we’re doubting. And when we’re grieving, when we’re desperate, and when we’re self-important.
 

We don’t always recognize Jesus. We are often as blind as the disciples were on the road to Emmaus. But Jesus is with us in our blindness, too . . . endlessly patient, endlessly beckoning.
 

We may fail to see him with us in our daily lives. So we come here to the communion table. And “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
 

Come and see. Jesus is here.  Amen
 

Vicar Sharon Richter
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
April 29-30, 2017

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