Hope on the Road to Emmaus

Easter 3 – April 26, 2020: ‘Hope on the Road to Emmaus’

Acts 2:14a,36-41

1 Peter 1:17-23

Luke 24:13-35

As I continue to grow in my faith and ministry, I find that I come to love the season of Eastertide more each year. With every new season I come to greater appreciation of the early church and the struggles it faced, the stories of Peter, Paul and the disciples (now apostles) as they grew and spread the Good News of the Risen Christ. This new church faced great conflict, it had to wrestle with the issues of doctrine that we take for granted and it also had to contend with deadly persecution. Christianity could well have died in infancy if not for the bold and brave convictions of the early apostles.

Over the next few weeks, we will be reading various parts of Acts and all of 1 Peter (hint- hint…if you have got some time and a Bible!). These readings speak to new beginnings, fresh starts for Peter and Paul and the gatherings of the first church; all underpinned with a sense of hope and purpose. My hope is that we can see links between then and now.

Where is our Hope?

The Road to Emmaus is a familiar story. Luke includes it in his account of that first Easter Day and there are many threads one can pull out of this story. If you remember the Seriously Surprising Story video that we showed last week, it was a fairly cheery telling of the story. While it does end well, the start – well – was not as cheery.

Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are walking away from Jerusalem, walking away from the disciples, walking away from their faith, their beliefs, potentially their families, jobs. They are without hope and they are sad. To be a fly on the shoulder of Cleopas for that conversation! There was such overwhelming grief that when Jesus came near to them their eyes were kept from recognizing him. I think that many Christians might be confident that they would recognize Jesus if/when he comes to them. But here we have disciples, who were with him all the time, who did not recognize him!   

As I read and re-read this passage, the same five words from verses 21 kept leaping off the page at me: ‘But we had hoped that…´ Notice the past tense of hope – they had hoped. Their hope, whatever it was in, was gone. When Jesus died, so did their hope.

I think that many people right now are without hope, ‘but we had hoped that…’ What about you? Have you hoped in something, someone that will not now come through? Where is your hope today?

As Easter people, we are to be people of hope even in the most trying of times. As impossible as that might seem right now! If you find that you have lost or are losing hope – take comfort and take heart. Jesus understands. He wants nothing more than to restore our hope.

How do we know that Jesus understands? His actions towards Cleopas and the other disciple tell us. Before he died, Jesus had expressly told the disciples that He would send the counsellor, the Holy Spirit to be with them forever. All they had to do was wait. It could be assumed that the disciples were meant to wait together. These two have seemingly forgot about this promise; so instead of waiting are walking away.  

Now, Jesus could have washed his hands of them, let them go. But he doesn’t. He goes after them. Not in an aggressive or pushy way, He does not chase them down or yell and scream. He meets them where they are at – going the wrong way, down the wrong road. As the disciples talk to Jesus, listen to him, they begin to see beyond themselves, they decentre from their own issues and problems.  

In that meeting with Jesus, Cleopas and the other disciple turn around and head back the right way, back on the right road, back to life. Hope is restored, hearts are burning in the breaking of the bread. Many people need to have their hope restored. Some of us might need to be turned around in our thinking, some might need to ask for strength in the waiting, and many likely need to find their hope again.

How can we find our Hope again?

One of the things I love about Eastertide is the renewal of baptismal vows. I would have done this on Easter Sunday in whichever service I would have taken. I would love to do this on our first Sunday back in churches. There is something in the renewal of promises and the sprinkling of water that makes all things new again and restores hope. For those of us baptised as babies, we didn’t have the opportunity to make those promises for ourselves, although maybe in confirmation we did. Either way – it is a restorative thing to do.

Peter, in Acts 2, is calling for people to repent and be baptized. Our sins have been forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit has been given! This is the great Christian hope! Wonderful news and a wonderful starting point for reclaiming any lost hope. The first step, according to Peter, is to repent and be baptised. Remember the promises made:

Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?              I reject them.

Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?                 I renounce them.

Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?       I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?             I turn to Christ.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?              I submit to Christ.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?           I come to Christ.

In his first letter, Peter was writing to the scattered Christians throughout the middle East who were facing persecution. I am sure they needed to know that they were not forgotten or beyond the reach of God. Peter is imploring these Christians to love each other deeply from the heart, they have been born anew and nothing can take away the hope of the final redemption and resurrection.

Peter knew this first-hand – Peter the one who denied Jesus three times and was restored three times. If anyone thought they were beyond hope, Peter is a prime example. Yet Jesus meets Peter on that first Easter, on the shores of Galilee as Peter too is attempting to go back to his previous life as a fisher of fish. In a conversation with Jesus, Peter is restored.

Remembering our baptismal vows, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the great love and long reach of God for each of us seems to me a place where we can recover our hope.

It was in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and the other disciple had their eyes opened and recognized Jesus. Although we cannot be together in the traditional way when the bread is broken this morning, my prayer is that we will each recognize Jesus once again in the situations and circumstances we find ourselves today so that we too can be restored and have our hope renewed.

Easter Sunday – He is Risen!

Christ is Risen! 

This is always the good news of Easter! Always has been and always will. This year has been different of course. What is usually a very busy weekend with a number of services has been quiet. In lieu of an Easter Vigil last night (although a number of dear Priest friends were doing them online) I opted to re-watch the Passion of the Christ without distraction (my phone). I vividly remember watching it when first released in 2004. At the end of the movie, the entire audience left the cinema in silence. Again, it left my in silence. 

As per request I am posting an Easter Sunday sermon. This was from last year. Still good! 

He is Risen Indeed! 

Acts 10: 34-43
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

Risen Christ,
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

Jesus is Risen. That is the message of today. I know that and you know that too. I kind of want to sit down now!

We come together this morning as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate what was done for us by Jesus on cross, we it meant and what it continues to mean. My hope this morning is that as we hear again the familiar story of the empty tomb, the reactions of those who were that we can put ourselves somewhere in the story of that first Easter Day.

Luke’s account has slightly different details than the other gospels, this doesn’t mean it is better or more accurate than any of others. Luke’s perspective is just different. I read through verses 1-12 with a stop every few verses with a thought or reflection with a brief pause. 

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,  but when they went in, they did not find the body.

• These women, who had been at the cross, went to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ body; they had seen it hanging on the cross so knew the condition it would have been in. They were prepared to finish the job of preparing the body. But they did not find it.
• We can only imagine the shock and surprise these women faced. There was a body yesterday but not today!
• How do we do when our expectations go unmet? When we turn up, ready to complete the job, meet that person, do what needs to be done and we can’t?

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?
• Are we looking in the right place for things? Are we looking among the dead? Do we do the same things time after time but expect different results? Do we treat people the same way, with the same expectations – but want a different response? Maybe it is time to look somewhere new?

He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words,

• Sometimes we too need to remember what we know about the promises of God. He did not come to meet our expectations but to meet our needs. This is cold comfort sometimes. I think this is why many people struggle with God; he doesn’t act or behave in a way that would make life more convenient or easier for us.
• Jesus rose again on the third day so that we could be with him forever, be forgiven and freed from our sins.

and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

• I’m not sure about you – but I struggle when I am not believed. If I am telling someone about an event or situation or telling a story, I expect that I will be believed. I like to think that I am a credible person!
• We have some idea of what these women have been through – the disciples (the men) all left Jesus on the cross as they couldn’t bear to watch. It was these women who were up early to get to the tomb to finish the preparations. The grief they must have been feeling. And now the hurt of not being believed.
• There is something in this about how I believe other people when they share their stories with me. Do I hold the same level of entitlement to be heard and believed that I think I deserve to other people? I think of some recent encounters with people and I have had to think seriously about this very issue. Am I treating the stories of others as an ‘idle tale’ or the real lived experience of another human.

But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

• Luke has Peter going to the tomb by himself. Matthew and Mark make no mention of Peter, John puts himself and Peter going to the tomb.
• Evidently Peter believed what the women had to say so he went too. Maybe one of the unnamed women was his wife or mother-in-law whom Jesus had raised? Anyway, something that Peter heard was enough to get him out of the house and on the road. Remember too that Peter was the one who had denied Jesus three times as Jesus told him he would. We again can only image how Peter must have felt that next day – his grief, his shame could only have been overwhelming.

• Now maybe in his mind Peter had a way to make things right. He saw the linens clothes by themselves and went home amazed at what has happened.
• What would it take to be amazed about the death and resurrection of Jesus today? Have we become complacent in our faith? Has life worn us down and we no longer feel that Jesus is bothered with us?

Friends be reminded again that He loves you, that everything that happened in that week 2000 years ago was for you today. As we hear these verses again let’s try to renew our amazement of all that Jesus did and continues to do for us.

Palm Sunday: My Thoughts & Observations

Palm Sunday – April 5, 2020
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Journey with Jesus (verses 1)

When I read the Gospel for today, the first thing that struck me was the travelling everyone in the story was able to do so freely. Jesus and the disciples were travelling from Jericho to Jerusalem, stopping in Bethphage with the expectation of meeting people. The large crowd that was able to gather in the streets of Jerusalem without thought, a mask or hand sanitizer!

I also remembered doing the drive from Jericho to Jerusalem on a trip to the Holy Land in 2015. Jericho is very flat but as you approach Jerusalem the terrain becomes very steep and hilly. I was in the comfort of an air conditioned mini-bus; on foot this would have been an incredibly long and steep uphill journey.

I think it is fair to say that many people are facing uphill journeys today in all aspects of life; in our families, friend groups, jobs, health, community and nation. Think for a moment about the uphill journeys you might be facing this morning. Have we asked Jesus to journey with us?

How did He Know? (verses 2&3)
I have always been intrigued how Jesus knew that the donkey would be in that place at just the exact moment it was needed. Jesus and the disciples had been travelling together and hadn’t been to Jerusalem for a while; yet Jesus knew that the donkey and colt would be there, tied up and never been ridden.

Think of something that no one knows about you. Maybe it’s a secret or habit or something happened that you are sure no one else knows about. Every moment of your life has been seen by God. He knows. There is no hiding.

Giving up the Donkey (verses 4-7)
I have also been fascinated by the donkey and colt owners. Who were they? If Jesus sent disciples ahead to the next village from Bethphage, it was likely to Bethany. Bethany means ‘the house of the poor’, it was sort of like a hospice where the sick, the poor and destitute could be cared for. It was a poor place! So, who lived there that could afford animals? No wonder the bystanders asked the disciples what they were doing!

The disciples faithfully gave the answer Jesus gave them. ‘The Lord needs them. And he will send them immediately.’ That was enough! The donkey and colt were readily handed over.

How readily do we hand over those things that the Lord asks of us? Do we drag our feet or simply refuse sometimes? These people in handing over the donkey and colt gave away something very precious to them.

The response of many people in our communities at this time is extraordinary and many donkeys are being handed over. May we continue to be so willing to hand over whatever is needed Jesus, but also our family, friends, church, neighbours and strangers alike in these coming weeks.

The Procession of the Palms (verse 8)
Jesus gets on his colt and starts the procession. This would have been a ridiculous site. Jesus was entering Jerusalem from the east side. The view from the Mount of Olives over Jerusalem is breath-taking; you stand a few hundred feet above the city, what remains of the Temple dominates the view. Below you are the Garden of Gethsemane and Kidron Valley. This was the view at the first Palm Sunday and is the same today. However, the east side was not the side of Jerusalem with any power or prestige. No king would think of entering from the east side.

A brief bit of historical research argues that two processions entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday; Jesus’ was not the only Triumphal Entry. Every year, the Roman governor of Judea (Pontius Pilate) would ride up to Jerusalem from his coastal residence in the west, specifically to be present in the city for Passover.

As Pilate clanged and crashed his imperial way into Jerusalem from the west, Jesus approached from the east, looking (by contrast) ragtag and absurd. His was the procession of the ridiculous, the powerless, and the explicitly vulnerable. There was no armour, brass or leather on the east side of Jerusalem. There was cloaks and palm branches – virtually worthless items spread before Jesus and his borrowed donkey.

If there was ever any question that Palm Sunday just sort of happened – Jesus has debunked that. This was a political statement by Jesus. He knew, had planned out what was to happen. It doesn’t feel very nice to wipe out the Sunday School image of a spontaneously jovial gathering coming together on the east-side of Jerusalem.

Save Us! (verses 9-10)
‘Hosanna’ means ‘save or saviour.’ It also has a sense of immediacy to it: ‘save now.’ The crowd was calling to be ‘saved in the name of the Lord’. If Jesus had been followed by the poor, the hungry and the destitute, those with nothing from the east side of Jerusalem; is all that more meaningful. Save now Jesus! Save me from my hunger, my poverty. We still make the same cry when we need God to save us. That same urgency is there.

This is a cry of salvation but also a plea for help during current difficulty. I suspect there are a lot of people crying out, pleading with God currently and with urgency to save. Save a loved one on a ventilator, save me from getting Coronavirus, save me from my loneliness, isolation, fears and anxieties.

We can take comfort and give thanks as in Psalm 118: ‘I will give thanks to you, for you answered me and have become my salvation.’

Who is This?  (verse 11)

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the city was in turmoil (remember 2 processions and a huge number of people) and people were asking ‘Who is this?’

The people in the crowd were not sure who Jesus was. Many people around us today have no idea who he is either. He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, full of mercy that endures forever. He is our salvation, our rescuer who arrives in humility into our poverty to save.

I believe that some of the people in Jerusalem recognized who Jesus was that day. Yet a week later they were calling out for his death. They got it right that one day. I want to recognize Jesus every day, be sure of my salvation every day. I need to know enduring mercy, love and goodness every day. I will have to risk some things for that – risk my doubts, risk rejection, call out Hosanna when I am in trouble.

That donkey ride cost Jesus everything that day in Jerusalem. Are we willing to risk everything for him?