Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Everytime I see this story from Scripture come up in the lectionary (the suggested reading for the church week), I get excited. Fun fact: every Sunday in the lectionary, there are at least four suggested Scripture readings (Hebrew/OT, Psalm, Gospel, Christian/NT). I always pick this reading from Luke from the four.
Confession: I have preached on this Scripture before and I will preach on it again! It always reminds me of the importance of telling the Gospel message in the “in between/confusing” times, and then it always gives me a new nugget of wisdom, as well.
So, before I get carried away, let’s review what’s happening here because there’s a lot of details:
It takes place on the day that the disciples hear of Jesus’ resurrection. So, they are in the midst of a roller coaster of emotions. Just in the past week, they celebrated Jesus arriving in Jerusalem, they saw him arrested and beaten and nailed to a cross, they started to grieve his death, and now they’re processing that the tomb is empty. That’s the epitome of a whiplash of emotion.
These two disciples are walking a road to a neighboring town, Emmaus. Frederick Buechner, well-known biblical scholar, suggests their walking to Emmaus may have been a bit of an escape. (Who wouldn’t want to take a road trip right now?!)
The two disciples were processing together, verbally, what all they had witnessed in recent days when a stranger approached (Jesus). They don’t shut down their own conversation; they share with this “stranger” their joys over Jesus’ message and their confusion over whether he was Israel’s redeemer. (They share their “yes, and” - remember last week’s message?) The disciples welcome this “stranger” into not only their conversation but also their lodging.
Finally, it was through their hospitality and a shared meal that Jesus was revealed.
What I normally love about this story (and still love!) is two-fold:
First, the disciples are caught doing what the teacher has taught. Think about it: they don’t know that this man is Jesus at first. Yet, they’re doing what he taught them: to tell the world about the message from “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” and to welcome the stranger.
It’s kind of like a parent or teacher who has taught a child to be patient with others and then you sneak up on them actually doing it! I have to imagine that Jesus was proud of them - for sharing the message of him and for “welcoming the stranger.”
It’d be fun if part of the Scripture was Jesus saying “good job, guys!” before departing, but it’s not. :(
Second, Jesus is revealed in hospitality and a common meal.
I love what Kathryn Matthews says on this: hospitality is “not simply a matter of being nice; hospitality is justice and generosity embodied, a spiritual practice that both requires and brings spiritual growth.” Hospitality goes deeper than a chocolate on your pillow at night.
This is a little hard to do right now, we may feel, because we can’t meet in person how we want to. We can still be hospitable and welcoming, though. We can still invite people to join us online for worship or tea time or prayer calls. We can still check on our neighbors and friends to ask what they need. We can still look a person in the eye as we awkwardly pass in the grocery store or see someone standing on a street corner asking for help.
Additionally, this time of reading the story an added nugget of wisdom stands out and it fits so nicely in line with what we touched on last week and also an upcoming series we’ll be offering. It’s the disciples’ honesty - how they hold together their excitement of Jesus’ message, their sorrow over his death, their confusion over his resurrection, and their openness to host a stranger.
Last week, I mentioned the notion of “yes, and”...a comedy improv technique that teaches us to take information given to us (saying “yes”), then building on it (saying “and”) instead of knocking it down and saying “no.”
The disciples essentially said “yes, the man we hoped would redeem Israel has been killed and we’re waiting to see what this empty tomb now means.”
The disciples’ example of holding all these things at once reminds us that we don’t have to be dualistic in thinking. It’s not “either you are energetic to share Jesus’ message” OR “you are confused by his death/resurrection.” It can be both.
A recent conversation I was a part of reminded me that often Christians hear a message that you can’t have both fear and faith at the same time. That you can’t fear an unknown and also have faith that God is present with you. Friends, that is dualistic thinking that can create a lot of shame within us. It can make us think that, when we do have fears, it makes us unfaithful Christ-followers. I don’t believe that to be true.
In Mark 9, a father whose child was sick says to Jesus “I do believe, help my unbelief!” That father knew that you could have both at the same time - belief and unbelief, fear and faith.
You can have fears and have faith in God at the same time.
Right now, we can probably relate to the disciples’ state of mind. They were juggling so many thoughts about what they had just witnessed and an uncertainty of the future.
“We wonder if there will be enough of the things we need not just for the enjoyment of life but indeed for its very preservation. We worry about our own health and even more about the health of our loved ones, and our neighbors and friends...and strangers, too, all of God's children at risk.
The invisible enemy that provokes all this anxiety is hard to fight, and in the midst of that fear...We're not sure what to believe, or what to think, or what to expect, or even what to dare hope for.”
So, yes, “we can relate a bit to those disciples long ago, trying to make sense of life after losing the One who had brought new meaning, new hope, new trust to their lives. Where was the next chapter of their story leading them, in the midst of this sorrow and loss?” (Matthews, ucc.org, Sermon Seeds)
In regular day to day living and in this time of crisis, we can think and feel a lot of things at the same time.
Just because you’re sad that you can’t meet up with friends, doesn’t mean that you can’t be thankful for the sunshine.
Just because you’re enjoying more time at home, doesn’t mean you can’t be worried over losing hours at work.
Just because you’re afraid of what the upcoming months have in store, doesn’t mean that you can’t still sing praises for God’s presence today.
Allowing for a balance in these thoughts helps us to maintain a balance in our emotional and mental health. At the start of the year, the worship and education teams had planned this time after Easter to be a time to present information on the UCC’s initiative of being a W.I.S.E. church - it is a program aimed at bringing awareness to mental illness, encouraging churches to be welcoming/inclusive/supporting/engaging around issues of mental health. That series is still happening - it’s simply looking different than originally planned.
After worship today, a pre-recorded interview with Lauren Gumpert will be posted on Facebook. She shares with us her journey of realizing the need for mental illness diagnosis and getting the right treatment. (Forgive the technical difficulties at the end.)
In following weeks, we will have live panel discussions from church members and community leaders on welcoming “the other,” being care givers for those with dementia, and maintaining mental health. (Look for details in flyer.)
Now is a time for us to take note of all the things we’re experiencing and feeling. I believe it can help us to show others the love that Jesus showed. It can help us to be honest and hospitable. It can help us to form ministries in new ways - really getting to the core of what matters and what is needed to spread Jesus’ message. It could literally be as simple as sharing your thoughts with a stranger on the road.