Rev. Heather Blais
Today’s gospel lesson is taken from Luke, where we witness a Shakespearian like story on the day of resurrection.
It begins with two disciples who have made the decision to travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus. While we do not know the reason for their travel, or what life might hold for them in Emmaus, we do know what they are leaving behind. The leader who had evoked so much hope within them had been arrested, tried, killed, and buried. They found themselves heartbroken and suddenly lacking a purpose. This grief was only compounded when some of the disciples discovered the burial tomb was empty. Another strange factor, in what felt like an impossibly hopeless situation.
So these two disciples did what we all must do in the face of tragedy and uncertainty: they kept going. They got up, bid farewell to Jerusalem, and began the seven mile walk to Emmaus.
Along the way, they encounter a fellow traveler. In an unexpected plot twist, we the listener are let in on the secret. We are told this traveler is actually the resurrected Jesus. Yet for these two disciples, they merely see another traveler, because, “...their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Lk 24:15).
The traveler asks them, What are you two talking about?
The two disciples sadly look at the stranger and the one named Cleopas asks,
Have you really not heard what happened in Jerusalem?
The traveler asks, What happened?
They tell the stranger everything.
The empty tomb.
The profound loss the disciples are feeling because Jesus has died and his body is now gone, and along with it their hope that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel.
In what I imagine is a loving tone of a parent or mentor, the stranger pokes,
Are you really so slow of heart to believe?
The stranger goes on to explain the meaning behind all of the scriptures in what must have felt like the most eye opening class ever.
After a while the three approach a village, and it looks like they might be about to part ways, when the two disciples invite the stranger to stay with them. As they made camp on the side of the road, they took out provisions for a meal. Then in the most ordinary of moments, the traveler took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight” (Lk 24:31).
It was only after the fact they recognized the signs that this had been no ordinary stranger. They asked themselves, “Were not our hearts burning within us...?” (Lk 24:32). The two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem to tell the others, where they quickly discover the resurrected Jesus has also appeared to Simon Peter.
Many of the post resurrection stories begin as the Emmaus incident does, with disciples who are unable to recognize the resurrected Jesus. I love this. It may be one of my absolute favorite factors in these stories. Primarily because it takes a two thousand year old story about other people in a far away land, and makes it a story that we can picture ourselves in.
I don’t know about you, but I know that...
What about you?
This story is so powerful because it is as relatable today as it was the very first time it was told. We may know in an intellectual way that Christ is always with us and still feel completely alone. When we go through difficult chapters in our lives, we may know Christ is with us, but it may only be long afterwards that we recognize the ways Christ was walking beside us.
Just like the disciples, we find ourselves asking,
“Were not our hearts burning within us?” or
“Were we not filled with an overwhelming peace and calm?” or
“Was not the impossible somehow made possible?”
As a species, we are quick to forget. The Emmaus incident is one of God’s many reminders to a forgetful people.
This week, I want to invite each of us to do some reflecting. Take a few minutes for you and God; maybe grab a piece of paper or a journal, and look back at your life up until this point in time.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
The gospel story from John’s gospel that we’ve just listened to is one we hear every year on this second Sunday of Easter. There are very few gospel texts that we hear every year, but this is one: the organizers of the lectionary cycle obviously consider this second part of John’s resurrection account to be very important.
We tend to think about this Second Easter gospel as being the story of Thomas – poor Thomas who gets such a bad rap and seems to be forever known as “Doubting Thomas”. This is what most of us usually preach on this Sunday, and in fact during the past week both Bishop Doug and Canon Rich Simpson have published reflections of Thomas and his concerns.
And the questions raised are good ones –
Why wasn’t Thomas with the others as they huddled together, locked in?
Was his questioning of his friends’ testimony of Jesus’ resurrection a sign of weakness, or of strength?
But as I dwelled on this story this week, my attention was more drawn to Jesus’ first appearance in the story, rather than on Thomas’ part in it.
Recall that it takes place on what we’d still call “Easter Day”, the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. In our story, we find the disciples – except for Thomas, of course – gathered together: john tells us they were afraid. They had watched Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, and then, as if that was not enough, that morning they had heard a fantastical story from Mary, John, and Peter that must have added to their shock and confusion.
And then, suddenly, Jesus stood among them. He offered them the greeting “Shalom”, a blessing that means not just tranquility, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being -- the kind of peace the world cannot give.
And Jesus then goes on to offer his last teaching, reminding them of the work to which he has called them: As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
And here’s the part that feels so powerful to me this week: When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit”.
It’s the breath imagery. With thousands in the Commonwealth, the nation, and the world, literally struggling for breath to sustain their lives, the image of Jesus breathing on the disciples, breathing INTO the disciples the grace and presence, the strength and consolation of the Holy Spirit seems like exactly what they must have needed, exactly what WE all need.
And the breathing of sacred breath bringing new life is a reminder of another ancient story we know well, from the second creation account in Genesis:
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,… the Lord God formed a human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into its nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.
New life animating a creature of the dust, of the earth – life that comes from the breath of the Creator itself.
The breath of Spirit that brings peace, that casts our fear, that gives direction to the frightened disciples.
And that breath of life of the Creator, of Jesus, of the Spirit – is in us as well.
We know how it impacted the disciples, how they went on to spread the word and change the world.
As we sit with those questions, I want to recall another story – one that is not so ancient, but which happened in our own lives. And it’s one that fits right in with our consideration of how the breath of the Spirit enables us to do more than we thought possible.
Three years ago, on the Second Sunday of Easter, the people of The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew allowed the breath of God’s Spirit to enter and enliven us, to guide us forward into becoming a new parish family, to “cultivate a [new] community of love, joy, hope, and healing.”
Two smaller churches that were each, in their own way, struggling to maintain vision and to maintain energy opened themselves to new possibility and stepped forward in trust, becoming a new church. And the Spirit breathed into us. And I suspect that many of you recall, as I do, the indescribable joy of “Emerging Sunday”, a joy that has remained with us.
Today we struggle, again, with fear and anxiety in a world transformed by the corona virus pandemic. The questions we have been living with of “how bad will it get?” and “How long will it last?” are still with us, but new questions are being added as glimmers of hope emerge both in terms of slowing infection rates from Covid 19 and in promising new treatments.
We’re now wondering not only when and how we can safely enter a post-pandemic world, but we have to ask what that world will look like. Just as the disciples, changed after Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension had to find the way forward, so too will we find ourselves changed and need to find new ways.
The disciples had to give up what had become a familiar life of traveling and ministering under the direction of their teacher Jesus. They had to let go of a messianic vision based on the triumph of power and glory, to embrace Jesus’ example of service and sacrifice. They had to trust the breath of Spirit to guide and sustain them as they faced new challenges and new hardships.
So as we look forward to a new world that we’ll be stepping into in the months ahead, we, also, need to be ready to let go of the familiar. We will have to learn new ways that we can’t even imagine right now.
I don’t think we’ll ever return to the same “normal” that we were accustomed to before Covid 19. Some of the sacrifices we’ve had to accept in recent weeks will end, but some will not. Hopefully, the losses we’ve endured during this terrible time will show us ways to be a better humanity, a more compassionate and just society. Hopefully we will have gained new perspective and be ready to set new priorities. Let us pray that we will allow the Spirit’s guiding and sustaining breath to give US wisdom and courage. Amen.
Rev. Heather Blais
This has been a strange and wondrous week. In every corner of creation, God’s people had to find new and adaptive ways to make this journey to the cross and the grave. While it might have been our first time making this journey in isolation, this was not the first time members of the Church have done so.
When Jesus was arrested, most of his disciples scattered. When he was crucified, only a few dared to stand at the foot of the cross. When he was buried, only the two women he loved most dared to keep vigil. Over two thousand years ago on Easter morning, followers of Jesus were holed up in their homes, afraid and unsure of what was to come.
Yet on Easter morning, two women went to keep vigil at Jesus’ grave:
Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary”.
To figure out who this “other Mary” is you have to find hints dropped by the gospel writer in previous chapters. Looking back a chapter, she is identified as the mother of James and Joseph (Mt. 27:56). If we look back several more chapters, we discover that two of Jesus’ biological brothers are named James and Joseph (Mt. 13:55).
This means the "other Mary" is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Scholars believe the reason she isn’t simply identified as Jesus’ mother is because her primary role on Easter morning is as a disciple.
When these two women go to the grave, they find soldiers standing guard by the tomb, still covered by a large stone. All of a sudden, the rocks shook again, just as they had after Jesus died. Except this time, the earthquake was accompanied by a brilliant light revealing an angel, who rolled back the rock and sat down. Fear seized the soldiers, who shook and fell to the ground as though they were dead.
The angel said to the women,
Don’t YOU be afraid;
I know you’ve come to see Jesus.
He is not here, because he has been raised.
Come, take a look and see where his body once rested.
Then go quickly and tell his followers.
It is just as Jesus told them after their last meal together;
Jesus has been raised from the dead
And will meet them in Galilee.
The women were overwhelmed with a mixture of fear, wonder, and joy. They went away immediately to tell the other disciples.
Along the way, they literally run into Jesus, who greets them. Upon seeing and hearing Jesus, the women fall to their knees and embrace his feet.
The longing to touch their loved one, their Savior and their God, is not lost on us this Easter. We know the ache these women have been feeling all too well. While our loved ones may be alive and well, holed up inside their homes--there are days when it is hard to imagine the next time we will reunite with those we are separated from during this pandemic. When will we next hug our children and grandchildren, embrace our parents, high five our students, or shake hands with our friends?
Yet Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus did not hug or hold their loved one, newly raised from the dead. Rather they clasped the feet of their Savior and their God in an act of worship.
A week ago, those same precious feet were anointed for burial in Bethany (Mt. 26:7).
Two days ago, those same feet lost all color, as life drained from Jesus' body (Mt. 27:51).
Those same precious feet were then wrapped in a clean linen and placed in a tomb (Mt. 27: 59-60).
Now those same feet stood before them.
The resurrected Christ said to the women,
There’s no need to feel afraid.
Go and tell my brothers and sisters,
those disciples whom I will always love
no matter how many times they forget what it means to walk in love
That I will see them in Galilee.
The translation from Greek to English that we heard in today’s gospel simply says, ‘go and tell my brothers’. Yet some scholars say a better translation of the Greek would be, ‘go and tell my brothers and sisters’. Judith Jones at Working Preacher explains, “Greek uses masculine plurals for any group that includes males, even if the group is comprised of nine women and one man. Though there are no women among the eleven, Matthew clearly includes women in the larger group of Jesus’ disciples.”
The resurrected Christ shifts language from “my disciples” to “my brothers and sisters” because Christ is trying to drive home a particular message.
Christ is saying to every disciple, from then until now:
You are not simply followers of a movement.
You are part of a body, a family of believers.
You are going to miss the mark sometimes.
You are going to forget what it means to walk in love.
Sometimes, you are going to act out of fear, anger, and scarcity.
We do not get to have all the answers.
What we have is Love.
A movement of Love that will transform this world and all of creation.
And it begins with each of you.
This Easter, as we greet the resurrected Christ, we find ourselves facing a decision. We can let the fear, uncertainty, and scarcity of our time dictate our thoughts, words, and deeds. Or we can join our siblings in Christ who have gone before us, paving a way of light as they walked in the darkness. Christ is inviting us to choose the latter. To walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God.
Today, on this strangest and most wondrous of Easters, I choose Love.
What do you choose?
Let us join together and walk in Love. Christ will surely meet us in Galilee. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
This has been the strangest and hardest Holy Week we’ve ever seen: I’m sure we’ll remember it forever. The familiar rhythms of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday and today, Good Friday, have been disrupted and altered, as has everything else in our lives.
What I think, though, is that there’s a great blessing this Holy Week – a way in which it’s perhaps even holier than usual. In the normal Holy Week that we’ve been accustomed to, and that we miss, the events of Jesus’ last days, his last meal with his community, his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, as well as the confusion and fear of the disciples are stories we’ve watched from a distance – they’ve been a rich and powerful drama that moves us, but from a safe distance.
This year we’re living it – the fear and uncertainty, the powerlessness, the grief. This is why it’s been extraordinarily hard for me to prepare this Good Friday homily. I came in for last night’s service and told Heather that I’d been working for hours on my Good Friday homily and deleted, over and over, everything I wrote. I eventually realized that I couldn’t figure out what to say to help us think about Jesus’ death on the cross when we are surrounded by death in the here and now, and trying desperately NOT to think about it. Further, I wasn’t sure that asking us to think about Jesus’ death and what it means was what we most need right now.
So let me tell you a quick story of what’s on MY mind, and I know that all of you have similar stories. This is not a happy story either, but it’s what’s real. My daughter Wyatt’s a nurse, working for Pioneer Valley Hospice and Palliative Care. She got her training in the nursing program right here at GCC. She provides care for patients in the last stages of life and for their families – in both homes and nursing facilities.
Wyatt has a nursing school classmate whom she has stayed in touch with on social media, though they’re not close friends. They’re about the same age, have young children, and do similar in-home nursing care. Wyatt learned on Monday night that her friend’s husband died that day from Covid 19, pretty likely brought home by his wife, who now will be raising their two children on her own. Wyatt couldn’t bring herself to go into work on Tuesday, but she has done so since. She is, understandably, finding it very difficult.
So I said that I wasn’t going to ask you to think about Jesus’ death, but I do want to suggest some connections between that first Holy Week, that terrible-and-beautiful Good Friday, and what we’re living through.
I believe Jesus accepted and submitted to death on the cross to affirm that powerlessness and pain are part and parcel of this life we’re given, and that God does not protect or rescue us from it. But Jesus faced the ugliness and violence of Good Friday out of the deep love that is the nature of God, to show us that God’s love is stronger and more powerful than the worst ugliness and the violence that the world can dish out.
And the world is dishing out some pretty awful stuff right now, and I’m not just thinking of the virus itself, but of the selfishness and self-protection-at-the-expense-of-others that we’re seeing in some quarters.
But God’s love is powerfully present all around us, just as it was on the cross. It is God’s love that we see in the courage of medical personnel and first responders and grocery store workers who continue to do their jobs despite the risk. It is God’s love that fuels creative new ways of reaching out to those in need – making sandwiches and sewing masks – as well as tried-and-true ordinary ways that we can support one another with phone calls and notes. It is God’s love – not something outside of ourselves but something that lives in us – that is helping us to do the right thing - to stay home, to do without, to exercise patience and persist in prayer.
There will be resurrection. There will be renewal and new life. There will be Easter.
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