Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
I am so glad to be with you all this morning, dear Lyndale community! It has been so grounding for me to connect with all of you from New York for the past few weeks. It’s a small but significant joy in the midst of so much pain, and I am grateful.
We turn to our reading today, which has been a source of great comfort and balance for me in this last week. Walking the road to Emmaus, the disciples were recounting the story of Jesus’ crucifixion – and the rumors of resurrection – when a stranger approached them. The disciples were “downtrodden,” or, I would venture, devastated: the One whom they had hoped would redeem Israel and overthrow the Roman occupation of Jerusalem had been killed, and his body had disappeared before it could be anointed. I connect with their devastation. So many have been killed by the COVID-19 pandemic and so many bodies have gone without the rituals that we expect: no funerals, no wakes, and often no anointing. As we so often do at Lyndale, we remember that Jesus’ death wasn’t an accident. As a Jewish man, Jesus was targeted by a Roman empire which systemically oppressed Jewish people. In a similar way, many of those who have been affected by COVID-19 have died or been harmed due to systemic factors like being forced to go to work in order to pay rent, by ableism via the rationing of medical supplies, or by white supremacy manifesting itself in the treatment of Asian and Black folks. Jesus’ death devastated his friends on a political level, just as COVID-19 devastates us politically today.
As I read this passage, I connect so deeply with the disciples’ hyper-focus on the big picture. After all, when they are invited into conversation by a stranger they immediately begin by regurgitating the news cycle: our hero was killed, but they say he’s alive. I so often do the same thing, in my own way, by refreshing my Facebook feed, reading apocalyptic op-eds, or opening every Zoom call with “did you see the article about…?” And yet, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus was not grand and all-encompassing, but intimate, zoomed-in, and personal. But the disciples did not recognize him. In fact, in other translations, the text says “the disciples were prevented from recognizing him.” What was it that prevented them from recognizing Jesus, with whom they had spent so much time over the past three years? As I mentioned before, the disciples seem to have a good handle on the big picture of the crucifixion and are beginning to grasp the concept of resurrection but I wonder, maybe, if Jesus was actually too close for the disciples to recognize him. I wonder if the disciples had given themselves time to feel their personal losses or to grieve the death of their friend. I wonder if they had sat down and examined the fears and trauma that the crucifixion had brought up for them. I wonder if they had mourned the lives they were going to live, the world that could have been, the possibilities that were no longer. Or, I wonder if, instead, they were covering their emotions with disclaimers: “This isn’t about me.” “Other people have it worse.” “My losses pale in comparison.” I know that I, for one, am guilty of doing the same.
We learn a lesson from the disciples: when we ignore the intimate, when we deny ourselves room to process, when we invalidate our real feelings of pain, we are prevented from recognizing goodness, sacredness, and wisdom in our lives, even (or especially) when it is up close and personal. So many of us are suffering in the most intimate ways: our depression is coming back. Our anxiety is stealing our sleep. Our mania is returning, we hear voices again, our words and actions feel out of our controls. So many of us are financially stressed, or worried for our families, or devastatingly lonely. In the midst of the societal pains of white supremacy, ableism, and xenophobia are the personal pains like mourning the loss of a loved one, grieving separation from community, and struggling to reimagine futures that look so different now than they did two months ago.
These pains feel most urgent when we feel we cannot share them in community. I wonder how many of us are guilty of hiding our personal emotions these days, using activism and protest not as tools for good but as tools for avoidance. I wonder if any of us have done to others what we most fear others will do to us: shaming our friends when they do come forward with their distress and fears, shunning their vulnerability in the name of “social context,” when in reality we are simply too scared of our own fears, our own distress, to accept anyone else’s. I hear the disciples say “are you the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on?” But I hear my own “how can you think of yourself in a time like this?” I emphasize that we cannot ignore the real harm being done to those most vulnerable by those most powerful, and we should not stop the important actions we are taking to resist Empire and work toward justice in this time and in all times. I find a model for that action especially in you, my Lyndale community, and in other radical movements in Minneapolis, and I am grateful for your witness. And yet, as we learn from this story, neither can we ignore the real harm that we experience, and neither should we stop the important actions we must take to meet the all too personal, seemingly small-scale needs in our communities. I am grateful, too, for the ways in which I see the Lyndale community meeting these needs, such as by creating a congregational care survey, which assesses the needs and gifts of our community at this time in particular. And yet I go back, so often, to the disciples, walking a road together, missing the personal holiness of Christ because they were too focused on the grandiose. We have so much in common, the disciples and I.
The disciples finally recognized Jesus, but not until they had journeyed with him for many miles and many hours. I am reminded that it takes all of us time to recognize holiness around and within us. We must spend the hours learning to navigate the balance between care for others and care for ourselves. We must spend energy learning how to show up authentically and be vulnerable when we are hurting. When the disciples understood who Jesus was — when they found God abiding with them — they immediately turned and went to their community. Even as they go, unlike some other post-resurrection stories we are not told how the disciples felt about recognizing Jesus. We are not told that they are scared, or that they rejoiced, or that they fell to the ground in worship. When they arrive to their friends and share the news of Christ’s return we do not even know if they felt the news was good news at all — was it too shocking? To overwhelming? Too unanticipated? So often lately I, too, have not known how to feel, or if my news is good news. In those times I turn to my community, who knows how to care for me and who reminds me how to care for myself. We process the news together— the shocking, the overwhelming, the unanticipated — whether about our political crisis or the crises we find inside ourselves. Especially in isolation I am grateful for the people I am finding to abide with, through phone calls, emails, text messages, social media, or, in the case of Monica my therapist, through teletherapy. That need — to abide with ourselves in community — is so prevalent in the Emmaus story, as the disciples returned to abide with their communities and even as Jesus returned to abide with his disciples. In this time of isolation I give thanks especially for all of you, my community at Lyndale, who abide with me in little boxes on a screen every Sunday morning, sharing prayers and joys alike. Together we give thanks to our God, the ultimate abider, who is with us always, modeling the care that we send to ourselves and to those around us. Abide with us, oh God, as we abide with one another, accompanying our communities through the infinite and the intimate alike. Amen.