Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2014
First Christian Church
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
These are the words of John Wesley, known as the founder of the Methodist Church. Wesley was going through a time of doubt and depression and while sitting in a church in England he had an encounter with Jesus. He felt “strangely warmed” as he said. He went into the service full of despair and left feeling he could place his trust in Christ. When most people hear this story, they focus on the whole warming of the heart. What we tend to forget was that Wesley came in to this church a broken man. He didn’t come in with much hope.
It was a little over ten years ago that I worked as a chaplain at a nursing home in Minneapolis. This is one of those requirements you have to do before getting ordained. Clinical Pastoral Education is a time when your faith comes face to face with life. You have to figure out how to be Christ in a very vulnerable moment.
I worked at Luther Hall, which was a transitional care facility. Some of the people I met were only there for a few days after a surgery. Others were there for a longer stay. I remember one of my first visits was to stop by the room of a patient. He was unconscious and this family was all around him. The man had a brain tumor it didn’t look like he was going to make it. However, the wife kept saying that he was going to get better. This was hard for me. I couldn’t just be frank and tell them he wasn’t going get better. I couldn’t pray that he would be miraculously healed. I was facing a moment where there seemed to be no hope. I did the best I could to not do something that would offend them.
How do you minister to someone when there is no hope things will get better? Those events happened thirteen years ago and I still don’t have a really good answer.
The this story about the Road to Emmaus is an fascinating story. We hear a story about two disciples and we don’t really know much about them. We don’t even know why they are walking to this town. What we do know is that they are heartbroken. This is only a few days after Jesus was crucified and now on this day they have heard the story of an empty tomb. These two people were crushed by the news. First their friend was killed by Rome and now there isn’t even a body left to mourn. Their emotion is distilled down to a few words: “But we had hoped.”
The two believed that Jesus was going to come and redeem Israel, that he was going to free Israel from Roman occupation. Now, that wasn’t going to happen.
But we had hoped…how many times have we echoed those words? But we had hoped to have twins. But we had hoped to keep my job. But we had hoped we would not lose our house to forclosure. But we had hoped to see our child graduate. But we had hoped it wasn’t Alzheimers. But we had hoped he wouldn’t walk out on his wife. But we had hoped. Those four words pack a punch. It tells us all that we need to know; hoping for something, excepting something better and to not have those dreams come true. Ernest Hemingway was once challenge to write a story with only six words. He responded: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.” Everyone of us has dealt with some kind of heartbreak, failure or loss. But we had hoped. It is one of those mainstays in life.
As these two men walk, another stranger starts walking beside them. Jesus had joined the the two men. Even when we don’t feel there is hope, when we think nothing will ever get better, Jesus is there. But it’s hard to see that when you are mired in despair. It’s also hard to walk with someone who is in pain. How many of us don’t know what to say when someone levels a bombshell of pain on you? I can tell you it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable.
A little later, the two men invite Jesus to stay with them the night. They sit down to have a meal and Jesus blessed and broke the bread. It was then that they knew Jesus was there. It was at that moment, hope came alive. Jesus was there all the time and they have to go and tell the other Disciples.
As Christians, we gather every Sunday and have communion. It’s easy to just go through the motions. I’m pretty sure we don’t expect much to happen as we eat a cube of bread and a thimble of grape juice. But the thing is, the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that Jesus is with us now. Communion is a reminder of what Jesus has done, but it is also a powerful reminder that Jesus is with us now, even when we can’t sense God. Christ walks with us even when we don’t know. Because we are humans that tend to forget God is with us, we need this holy meal. We need to know that when say “but we have hoped” Jesus responds by breaking bread and revealing that God has been with us all along.
This is the reason we need church. Evangelical theologian Scot McKnight was recently interviwed about them importance of the church. He call the church a “kingdom society where God’s will is done as a result of Christ’s redemption. It is being part of a community that we learn about how God operates and where we can see Christ in each other, as well as in bread and win.
When they realize they were talking to Jesus, the disciples ran and told the others. We are called to go and tell others that Jesus is alive and is with all of us. The result of breaking bread with Jesus, as we do every Sunday is to go and tell the good news. There will still be heartache, at least on this side of heaven. But we can tell others that Jesus is with us even when we don’t know.
As we continue our journey this Easter season, let us know that Jesus walks with us- even when we don’t feel it. And let us go and tell the world. May our prayer be this passage of the well known hymn, “Let us talents and Tounges Employ:”
Let us talents and tongues employ,
reaching out with a shout of joy:
bread is broken, the wine is poured,
Christ is spoken and seen and heard.
Jesus lives again; earth can breathe again.
Pass the Word around: loaves abound!
May it be so. Amen.