Monday, April 11, 2005

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A, April 10, 2005

In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.

Sadness, despair, disillusionment. We have all faced these. The story of the road to Emmaus is a story of these same feelings. The loss of a loved one, a long term separation, the failure of friendship or love, even the loss of a pet. The loss felt by Cleopas was summed up in one sentence: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” But now their hopes were dashed. Their redeemer had been murdered. All was lost. Their lives were filled with sadness, despair, and disillusionment.

“We had hoped.” How often in our own lives have we hoped, only to later find out we were wrong. The Road to Emmaus is the road traveled by all of us who have had our hopes dashed. I can imagine that as Cleopas and his friend were talking along they way, they were reliving what had happened. Possibly trying to figure out what went wrong. How was it that their plans, hopes and dreams had been so disastrously sidetracked. Perhaps there was some Monday morning quarterbacking. If only we had done this or that, things might have been different. It is the same in our own lives. We will all have to face hardship or disappointment in our lives.

And as they are walking along in their sadness, consoling each other, and talking a stranger came near and asked what they were talking about. They must have thought him the most uninformed man in the entire country. How could he not know the raging topic of the day.

The thing I like about the Bible is that it doesn’t sugar coat things. It tried to lay out what happens warts and all. It could have been easy to pass over all the bitter disappointment of a messiah who didn’t come through. It could have jumped neatly from crucifixion to resurrection to the powerful preaching of the Apostles in Acts and left out all the human frustrations and disappointment. Sort of give is a superhuman or Superman faith. A faith probably none of us could ever attain. But it doesn’t. The Bible is not afraid to show the truth of the humanity of Jesus first followers in all their broken humanity. Failure, pain, frustration, hurt, disappointment.

Some might find this honesty daunting. What good if faith if it doesn’t protect us from all of this. But a faith that would protect of from all of this would rob us of our humanity.

Watching the funeral of Pope John Paul the second this week was a powerful reminder to me of how to deal with pain, suffering, and frustration. John Paul for the last few years of his life had to watch, helpless as his body slowly failed him. I cannot imagine the frustration this must have held for him. And yet he provided a stunning example of faith to us in his time of greatest weakness. He continued to trust in God. He continued to serve God as best as his broken body would allow. In the end he taught us again the lesson of faith in the face of pain and suffering.

John Paul knew, probably better than most that the real truth of our faith comes at the end of this story. The good thing about the Road to Emmaus is that it does not end in hopelessness. You may experience and even endure it on the way, but in the end, Jesus is our hope. Jesus gives them and us hope and a new outlook on life. As they said after Jesus disappeared, “Were not our hearts burning while he was talking to us on the road…”

Jesus came to Cleopas and his friend when they were at their lowest. He did not berate them for their lack of faith. He did not abandon them for their unfaithfulness. He came to them and he shared with them. Jesus came to them in their pain and distress and he restored them.

That is what Jesus wants to do for you and for me. He wants to heal us. He wants to restore us. Will we be like those on the road to Emmaus and allow him to minister to us or will we reject him. Some of my saddest times of ministry are those times when I see people in despair and hopelessness and they blame God and refuse to allow God to touch their broken hearts.

I believe that John Paul the second truly knew what it was like to feel his heart burning by the presence of Jesus in his life. That is what I believe sustained him in his years of decline and pain.

As people of faith we need to remember those wonderful words “Were not our hearts burning while he was talking to us on the road…” As we each travel our own roads of faith I pray that each of our hearts will be burning from our encounter with the living Jesus.

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