The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017
Jesus is With You
Afraid. Lonely. Worried. Anxious. These two disciples of Jesus, Cleopas and his companion, are leaving Jerusalem. It’s the afternoon on that first Easter day. The scriptures don’t tell us exactly why they’re leaving town, but we can conjecture. Perhaps they were afraid and worried about what they had heard from the tomb that morning; that somehow Jesus was still alive, though they had seen him die. Perhaps they’re lonely, distraught having witnessed the crucifixion. Perhaps they are anxious, anxious because they might be caught as one of Jesus’ followers and be condemned like he was. Afraid. Lonely. Worried. Anxious.
When Jesus comes alongside them on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Cleopas and his companion don’t know it’s Jesus. But still, they open their hearts to him. They spill their guts about how they’re afraid, lonely, worried, anxious. “Our chief priests and leaders handed Jesus over to be condemned to death and crucified him,” they say. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” they say. They are stuck in the pain of their recent past. And they are afraid of what is to come.
Cleopas and his companion are leaving town to escape the memory, to escape any subsequent persecution, they’re headed for Emmaus because those seven miles will be a buffer between them and the painful memories of Jerusalem. They’re getting out or Dodge, putting distance between their painful memories and their gloomy future. They have been wounded by the past, so they are afraid of their future.
This might as well be you and I walking on the road to Emmaus with Jesus. Because we have been wounded by our past, we are afraid of our future. Painful memories affect our future behaviors. We’ve all experienced this. On a small or on a large scale. Your high school football coach made fun of you in front of the whole team, so you spend your whole life trying to make your bosses happy. You had a miscarriage, so your heart aches every time you see a child. The church you attended used the threat of a fiery hell to keep you in line, so you’re inherently skeptical of anything that comes from this pulpit. You saw combat in the military, and now you wrestle with the demons of trauma.
And everybody’s experience will be different. What caused you pain may not cause somebody else pain. Clearly, Cleopas and his companion leave Jerusalem, but not all the disciples leave Jerusalem. This world affects each of us differently.
And, more than that, we, as a society, we are wounded by our historical scars and we are riddled with future anxiety. We see this in the news everyday. We remember the lurking and sinister fear of the Cold War and a nuclear holocaust, so we turn our future anxiety to North Korea. Bullies – both children and adults – wield emotional power over us; they use our past experience to cow us in the future. Past wounds become fear of the future. This is why we cannot seem to have a coherent national dialogue about Civil War Memorials: because we refuse to acknowledge the pain of the past, we will constantly be afraid of what is to come.
You and I, and our whole world, are on the road to Emmaus. Running from our fears. Terrified of our future. And what we are missing, what we don’t notice, is that Jesus is right there beside us. Because Jesus is not bound to distant years in Palestine. Jesus is not just some distant hope. Jesus is present. Here. Now. This is what Cleopas and his companion learn on that road. Though Jesus died, Jesus is still alive.
The three of them finally make it to Emmaus, and they stop for the evening. They stop for a meal. Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. And in that moment Cleopas and his companion recognize Jesus. Their eyes are opened. They say, “were not our hearts burning within us?” They see that Jesus was present with them. Not in the past. Not in the future. Now.
But most of all, the pain they felt at seeing their Lord die took on new meaning. They no longer had to run from their past. They now longer had to run from their worries. Jesus had been with them in their pain all along. And this means that they no longer had to be afraid for their future. Because they were able to put the past into perspective, they could face the future with courage.
Think of it, they walk all the way back to Jerusalem that evening. Seven miles. They were going back to where their Lord had been crucified. They were going back to the city and to the people that had betrayed Jesus. Because they knew that Jesus would also be there. Because they had met Jesus, they were able to go back and face their fears. Because they had met Jesus, they put their anxiety about the future into perspective.
So here we are, running from our fears, terrified of our future. It’s as if our emotions are the pendulum on an old grandfather clock. Swinging back and forth from shame about the past, worry about the future. Sorrow from what has happened, anxiety about what is to come. Cleopas and his companion think, “they crucified Jesus, am I next?” We think, “Terrorists attacked on September 11, what’s next?” I was bullied in school yesterday, what will they say tomorrow? I’ve got a decent job now, but what is the economy turns south again? My cancer is in remission now, but what about my next PET scan? Back and forth, back and forth. Never stopping. Never ceasing. The pendulum swinging from afraid. Lonely. Worried. Anxious.
And so Jesus puts out his hand, to hold the pendulum still. Jesus opens the scriptures and breaks bread, and for a moment, time stops for those two disciples. They live in the present, and see that Jesus is with them. They are not to worry about what happened in Jerusalem, and they don’t have to run away to Emmaus. Jesus is with them in the present.
Jesus is putting out his hand, grabbing hold of your own internal, emotional pendulum, to hold it fast. Jesus, in a way, stops time. Because God is here, in the present, with you. Remember what Saint Paul says, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As we ran to the apparent safety of Emmaus, Jesus calls us to return to the apparent danger of Jerusalem. You can go back to school, and not be worn down by that bully. You can go back to the doctor, trusting in God’s love no matter what. You can read the news without your mind racing about what is to come, about things that you can absolutely nothing about. This, this will be the healing our souls long for, the healing our society longs for. To stop running away. With the power and love of Jesus, to have the courage to look at our past. And not to be shamed by it. And then to look at our future, and not be terrified of it.
I pray that our hearts burn for the living God. And that when the pendulum is swinging back and forth with crazed furor, I pray that Jesus stops us and breaks bread for us. I pray that our eyes are opened to see the living God.