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Hope Renewed (April 26, 2020)

 Hope Renewed 

This is one of my favourite stories in the gospels. We move from John’s way of telling the resurrection story to Luke. 

The women come to the tomb that first Easter, with spices to prepare the body of their friend for burial. Although it’s been three weeks for us since Easter, our gospel readings keep us on that first day of resurrection. But as I’ve said before, that very first day of resurrection was a day of pain and heartache and confusion. 

The women arrive at the tomb and see that the stone has been rolled away. Two men dressed in light seem to be surprised that they’re there. “Why are you looking for the Living One in a cemetery? He’s not here. He’s been raised. Remember how he told you about this?” 

And the women do remember. They run back to tell the others about it, but no one believed them. “These words seemed like an idle tale to them, and they did not believe the women.” 

That same day, a couple of disciples are leaving Jerusalem to return home to Emmaus. It’s a two–hour journey (about 7 miles), but I imagine it felt like it took forever. 

One of them is Cleopas. This is the first time we meet him in the gospel. The other is not named. Most artists paint the scene with two men, but I’m inclined to think that it’s probably Cleopas and his wife. 

Regardless, here is one of the great surprises in Luke’s way of telling the story. Jesus appears … but not to Peter. Not to any of the other disciples. Not to the women who travelled with Jesus during his life. 

Jesus appears for the first time to a couple of disciples we’ve never met before, journeying with them to some two–bit village which no one remembers any more. 

Isn’t this the same way his birth was announced? Not to princes and the powerful, but to a few anonymous shepherds up in the hill country. 

I think that Luke wants to say that the good news of God’s love and God’s life comes not to insiders, but to ordinary folk in forgotten, out–of–the–way places. People like you and me. In small towns in south–eastern BC. Far away from the centres of commerce and culture. 

Jesus comes to people who are tired and disheartened. Their whole lives have been turned upside down, and all they want to do now is go home. 

In our world also, the good news of resurrection surprises and astonishes a world in which everything seems lost. The word of life is spoken in the midst of death and confusion and dashed hopes. 

So I wonder if this unnamed disciple stands in for us. Maybe it’s you going home with a heavy heart, wondering about this idle tale we heard from the women. Maybe it’s me, wondering if the news of resurrection is just too good to be true. 

Maybe we are the ones on this journey with such heavy hearts, finding it hard to proclaim resurrection faith in a world which is still living with the cross. Maybe it’s us for whom this news is almost more than we can believe. 

Maybe it’s us. 

When Jesus first shows up, they don’t recognize him. He asks, “What are you talking about?” 

And through their tears they tell him about their pain. They talk about their dynamic friend Jesus. But now, he’s been betrayed. He was sentenced to death. He was executed. 

And we are confused. 

And then come three words which break my heart: “We had hoped …” 

We had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. We had hoped he was the One. 

We had hoped … 

Haven’t we all uttered those words? 

We hoped that the diagnosis would be different. We hoped our child would recover. We hoped we could fix our marriage. We hoped to travel in our retirement. We hoped that the cancer would go into remission. We hoped our church would grow. We hoped that the depression would lift. We hoped this job would last. We hoped this pandemic wouldn’t last so long or be so difficult and so costly. 

We had hoped… 

We all know the pain of dashed hopes. 

I remember when I was diagnosed with diabetes. I came home from the doctor’s office, fell into a chair at our dining table and started to weep. My life no longer made sense. It felt like a death sentence. But what I remember most about that day was my 5–year–old daughter Yvonne climbing into my lap, wrapping her short arms around my neck and holding me. After a while, she just said very quietly and simply, “It’s going to be all right Daddy.” 

In that moment, Yvonne was Jesus for me. She spoke a word of life to me. 

In 2020, we can also say, “We had hoped.” But we are living in a time when everything has been changed. Our whole lives are different these days, and we are learning new ways of being together even while we keep our physical distance. 

We are living in a time when we are being called to trust the word of life in a world still living with the Cross. We are being called to trust the word of resurrection when we know that it is not the normal way things work. The good news of life comes in the midst of pain, grief, loss, and death. 

Jesus listens to these early disciples as they pour out their pain. And when they’re finished, he tells the story of their faith in such a way that it enlarges their vision. Jesus seems to say, “Here’s what you’re leaving out. Here’s what you’re missing.” 

Jesus points them to the grand and loving purposes of God in the whole sweep of the story. Jesus helps them hear and see the whole story of God in their lives and in their world, and the story of God’s love is so much larger and more loving than anything they could have imagined. 

And they catch a vision of God’s love for the world. They see something of God’s purposes of a world made whole. And they are invited to join God in creating new possibilities in the world. 

Their hearts began to burn within them. Their whole being is suffused with grace and light and life. They hear a word of God’s life, and their lives are made new. 

They reach Emmaus and invite this stranger to stay with them for the evening meal. The guest becomes the host. He takes the bread. He blesses it. He breaks it. He shares it with them. 

That’s the moment in which they recognize him. 

The language of taking … blessing … breaking … sharing is the language of Eucharist. But it’s interesting to note that Luke uses exactly the same language in Luke 9 in the story of the feeding of the 5,000. 

It leads me to think that even though we cannot gather together for the Eucharist, every meal which we celebrate may be a sacramental moment in which we experience the grace and presence of God. 

Whenever we share a meal together, whether it be at church or at home, we recognize that Jesus is present with us. In bread and wine, in blessing and fruitfulness, we know God is here. 

In my training for ministry, Jim Cruickshank (the last bishop in the Diocese of the Cariboo) used to remind us that when we hallow the food on the altar, at the same time we hallow the food 

on all the tables around which we gather. Theologian Paul Tillich said the same thing—“When we share in communion, every meal becomes a communion meal. Every meal becomes a place where we encounter Jesus. Every person around the table becomes an angel.” 

We are all sheltering in place these days. At the same time, we are discovering that God is present with us in all circumstances, and that every moment and place is a revelation of God. We eat and drink at home and give thanks that Jesus is with us, and feeds us with gifts of grace and nourishment. 

As with these two early disciples, our eyes are opened, and our lives are being made new. 

In this time of pandemic, it’s easy for us to focus on the restrictions and limitations of this time. They are very real, and many of us long for them to be lifted. 

But there are gifts in this time as well. We see God’s presence all around us: 

Creation is being healed. 

We are reaching out to one another in new ways. 

We will never again take some of the simple things in life for granted — a hug; a walk in the park; coffee with our friends; a meal with extended family; sabbath time to rest and be renewed. 

As I list some of those things, my heart burns within me for a new way of being, a new way of living, in which connections with people become so much more important. 

We are being given an opportunity to hope for a new way of living together which is marked not by profit but by sharing; not by consuming but by connection; not by striving but by reaching out to others; not by getting ahead but by belonging and finding ways to be in communion with one another. 

As we recognize that God is in our midst, our hope is being renewed. 

Thanks be to God. 

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt 

April 26, 2020 (3rd Sunday of Easter) 

Luke 24: 13–35 

1 Peter 1: 17–23 

Acts 2: 36–41