Third Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2020
The rug has been pulled out from under their feet. On Easter afternoon those two disciples walk away from Jerusalem, away from their friends, away from their hope. We can put ourselves into the place of Cleopas and that other disciple and feel their disillusionment, their sorrow, their bewilderment at what has taken place. They had put their faith in Jesus, they put their faith in his words, his deeds, his love, and now it’s all been taken away on a cross. With the other disciples they had believed, really believed, that Jesus was coming to renew Israel, to make things right, and that with Jesus, things would be better. And yes, at the end of the story, Jesus is made manifest to them in the breaking of bread. They return back to Jerusalem, joyful in the risen Lord. The whole story ends with hope. Hope based on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.
But without Jesus, where is the hope? In today’s day and age, fewer and fewer people put their trust in the Lord God. That shouldn’t come as a shock. But as G.K. Chesterton said, not believing in God doesn’t mean you believe in nothing. Not believing in God means that you’ll believe in anything.* Not religions per se – but the world has puts its faith in the other gods. The people around us worship their stock market portfolios, they worship the National Football League, the worship their work. And now all of that has been taken away. I really do think that our society feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. As if everything they put their trust in has been taken from them. The great projects of modernity have all betrayed us and the world is disillusioned. The world placed its faith in the market to create wealth. The world placed its faith in social movements to overcome injustices. The world placed its faith in science, in technology, in engineering, in medicine. And like those two disillusioned disciples walking down the road on Easter afternoon, modern society has lost all it held dear. This is why cynicism has become the mainstay of our culture’s political and social life.
We figured out how to fly to the Moon, but we can’t figure out how to make sure everybody gets fed. We created social media to connect with each other, but somehow we find ourselves lonelier than we were before. We pursued wealth, and the world has ended up crippled by debt. N.T. Wright put it this way – in the modern life we have the freedom to “do what we like, but we’ve all forgotten why we liked it.”* Like those two disciples on that Easter afternoon, the people of our modern world are walking down a lonely, barren road, disenchanted by the world’s false promises and broken dreams.
This is a tender moment in the life of the world. This is a moment in which we can help the world see that there is one thing they can trust in that will never fail them – and that is God alone. We now have an opportunity to be real. To be frank. To be clear about how the world has failed and to remind everybody that the world will fail again.
Like Jesus coming alongside those two heartbroken disciples, we must come alongside those hurting and lonely in our society and offer a new vision, a better vision. We must listen to their pains, hear their loss, we must walk alongside them as they reel from the shock of losing their gods.
But I cannot say this enough. Our job, as the Church, is not to throw doctrine at the world for its unbelief and hatred. Our duty, in this present moment is to lament with those who have lost everything, to offer grace. Don’t get me wrong, we can be critical of this world, but we must never be self-righteous. The risen Lord Jesus did not stand on the side of the road saying, “I told you so,” to his heartbroken disciples. I believe the Church is at its worst when we start throwing stones at people who are already broken down, confused, and hurting. The God we know and worship is a God of compassion. Woe to us when we rub salt in the wounds by our smugness.
Of course, the mission of the Church is neither to put the rug back around their feet. Our mission, as the Church, is not to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. We are not here to go along with the broken and corrupt systems of this world so that the world can go back to worshipping all its false gods. On top giving food to the hungry, we need to ask why people are hungry. On top of helping people get by, we need to ask why so many people live so close to the edge. On top of praying for our hospitals, we need to ask why we are so unhealthy. On top of providing a place of community and refuge, we need to ask why so many people are so desperately lonely. After meeting the risen Jesus, those disciples do go back to Jerusalem. But they go back different. They go back proclaiming not Jesus as they knew him in this life, but as they know him risen from the dead.
See, the mission of the Church only makes sense through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because, through the resurrection, we see what God fully intends for the whole world. And anything that falls short of that, anything that falls short of resurrection, anything that falls short of love, is falling short of the Kingdom of God.
You know, I could have gone two ways in this sermon. I could have put us in the place of the two disciples, how we are heartbroken and weary, and thanks be to God that the risen Lord breaks bread with us. But I wanted to speak with you about mission. About our call. About our duty to serve the world in the name of Jesus. Because this passage describes perfectly how the Church ought to do its mission in the world. We come alongside those who are hurt, we listen. We offer sustenance. We offer companionship. We offer hope.
And that is my task for you this week. I am certain there is someone in your life who is devastated by what they have lost. They are walking that lonely road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Like Jesus, I ask you to come alongside them. Hold them tenderly in your heart. Listen to their woes. Don’t talk, listen. And finally, offer what you have. Not out of smugness, or self-righteousness, but out of grace. I know it is a tall order, but this is the mission of the Church – for you, you sitting on your couch in your pajamas watching all this on your phone – you are called to serve the world as Jesus first served us.
* Wright and Bird, “The New Testament in its Time,” 333
* Wright and Bird, The New Testament in its Time,” 332.