We Had Hoped

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and
how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
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Imagine meeting a stranger and, after the stranger left, learning that it was someone famous.  It could happen.  You could be shopping or sitting in an airplane or eating at a restaurant.  The stranger is friendly and strikes up a conversation with you. You hang out for awhile and then you part company.  Afterwards, somebody comes up to you and says, “Do you know who that was?”  And you find out you’ve just had lunch with a famous senator or actor or athlete.
It could happen.  It did happen to Cleopas and his companion.
Cleopas and his friend were on their way home after a stressful week in Jerusalem. I’m guessing that they had gone into Jerusalem for two reasons: to celebrate the Passover and to hang out with Jesus and the other disciples. The week had not gone as expected.  On the plus side, they had several days to hear Jesus, who preached in the temple following his entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey.  On the negative side, they had watched, first with dismay, then horror, as Jesus was arrested, shoved through a sham trial, and executed.
Because they had been dedicated followers of Jesus, they could not let the events of the past week fade into memory. Luke tells us they were “talking with each other about all these things that had happened. “ The original Greek of the passage implies that they were not only talking; they were “examining evidence together.”
How many times do we go back over what we’ve seen and heard and tried to make sense of it.  I sat at the deathbed of a fine gentleman the other night.  He had died of a heart attack and his wife was going over every minute that led up to the heart attack. She narrated every step from his first chest pain to his collapse to the ambulance ride.  At each step, she analyzed what she perceived and what she now saw as happening.  As is the case with many heart attacks, it cannot be distinguished from heartburn. She gave him some Tums, some 7-Up.  She analyzed every pain, every movement, trying to figure out what she could have done.
We’ve all been through events that puzzled us, caused us pain, made us relive moment by moment the one misstep, the one wrong word, the one wrong turn. Historians have mulled over events for as long as people have made history.  For instance, 65,000 books have been written about the American Civil War. Sixty-five thousand!
There are two reasons we go over and over events. First, we want to understand what happened, and second, we want to understand what we could have done differently.  Sometimes we learn from this analysis; sometimes we don’t.
Cleopas and his friend were familiar with Jesus’ teachings.  They followed Jesus intentionally, wanting to be a part of whatever he was planning.  They believed  “Jesus of Nazareth, … was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, …we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”
They knew the prophecies, they believed in them and, in Jesus, they had found the manifestation of the old prophecies.  Now they were trying to figure out what had happened.  We know they were close followers of Jesus because they knew of the reports that had come back that morning from the tomb: 22 “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
Not everyone who knew about the crucifixion had heard about the empty tomb. Clearly, Cleopas and his friend were in the inner circle of disciples.
The phrase that strikes my heart most is (21) “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  We had hoped.  How often hope is the thing that keeps us alive, keeps us believing, motivates us to get out of bed in the morning and allows us to sleep at night.  Again, in my hospital work I have seen how a lack of hope takes away the ability to live, to engage, to progress.  We had hoped.
What have you hoped for?  Sometimes we hope for good weather, for healing, for a good crop, for a raise, for safe travel, for wisdom or luck.  Sometimes we hope for things that are so personal that we cannot speak of them without feeling pain.
Cleopas had hoped, along with thousands of others, for the Messiah who would redeem Israel. We know now, that our hope lies in a different direction. Our hope lies in the resurrection, in knowing that resurrection awaits us and all those who go before and after us.
But in the meantime, we don’t sit on our hands.  There is also hope for our time in this only life that we know, this life that we are reluctant to leave.  Jesus has given us hope for happiness, justice, goodness, not as a martial messiah, but as a loving teacher and an perfect example.  There is hope for each day, each moment when we love God and love our neighbor.
As your pastor, and as a Christian, I believe that our coming together for worship is the best way to reinforce that hope.  One of my favorite authors is David Lose.  He sees in this Emmaus story the format for Christian community:
“… it is Luke’s great promise about Christian worship. Think about the four-part movement of the narrative:
the two travelers are met on the road,
have the scriptures opened,
share in a meal that reveals the identity and presence of Christ,
and then are sent to share and live the good news.
We can encounter Jesus in unexpected places.  I pray that each day, you find Jesus walking by your side, in the form of your own actions or the actions of another.  And I thank God that we can meet together as followers to open ourselves with purpose to receiving God’s presence in this time and space.  Amen.

 

  1. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992

2.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3188

1,984 Years Ago

Contemporary English Version (CEV)

21 When Jesus and his disciples came near Jerusalem, he went to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives and sent two of them on ahead. 2 He told them, “Go into the next village, where you will at once find a donkey and her colt. Untie the two donkeys and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks why you are doing that, just say, ‘The Lord needs them.’ Right away he will let you have the donkeys.”

4 So God’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said,

5
“Announce to the people
of Jerusalem:
‘Your king is coming to you!
He is humble
and rides on a donkey.
He comes on the colt
of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples left and did what Jesus had told them to do. 7 They brought the donkey and its colt and laid some clothes on their backs. Then Jesus got on.

8 Many people spread clothes in the road, while others put down branches which they had cut from trees. 9 Some people walked ahead of Jesus and others followed behind. They were all shouting,

“Hooray for the Son of David!
God bless the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hooray for God
in heaven above!”

10 When Jesus came to Jerusalem, everyone in the city was excited and asked, “Who can this be?”

11 The crowd answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

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During its long history, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.[1] The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.[2]

Jerusalem was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah for some 400 years. Even under Roman occupation, it remained the center of Jewish identity and practice.

In the first century, Jerusalem became the birthplace of Christianity.  The major events of Christianity took place in Jerusalem, including much of Jesus’ preaching, the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, as well as the events of Pentecost, when the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and first began preaching the Gospel.

1, 984 years ago, give or take a few days, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero and as a fugitive.

1,984 years ago, faithful Jews from all over the Roman Empire were streaming into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, one of three festivals celebrated in the city each year.  Every Jew who was able traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. This meant that the population of the city swelled by nearly 3,000,000.  Not three thousand: three million.
Imagine the Quad-Cities increasing by three million people during Ragbrai or Bix.  Ragbrai hosts 8500 riders.  The Bix hosts 20,000 runners + spectators.

If you were the local law enforcement group, how would you plan for three million—not three thousand—three million visitors?  What wold you expect to happen with three million extra people in the city.  While the Chamber of Commerce might be ecstatic, law enforcement would expect their work to escalate.

Law enforcement in Jesus’ times was the Roman government, represented by the Roman army.  Think of how we call in the National Guard in times of crises.  It’s an old, old practice.

Jerusalem was already on edge, without the anticipated surge in population. Ever since the Roman occupation, various Jewish rebel groups had been seeking ways to overthrow the Romans.  The best known group of rebels was the Zealots.  They conducted guerrilla warfare and were a source of harassment for Roman authorities.

If you were a Zealot and knew that three million people who shared your nationality were coming to town, what would you plan for Passover?  Rebellion? It didn’t happen that year, but the Roman government was prepared. They sent an army to Jerusalem.

On the day we are celebrating, the Roman government was marching into town from the west.  Jesus and his followers entered town from the east.

These two processions, heading toward each other, contrasted remarkably.

The army rode on horses, battle horses.  Perhaps there were chariots, big heavy wooden vehicles.  The soldiers on foot were covered with armor and carried swords or other weapons.

From the east came the other “army” armed only with the clothing they wore, while their leader rode on a donkey.

Can you picture that?   A big war horse, armor, clanking of metal.  A quiet donkey, a quiet man.

Anytime you have a procession, a parade, you have onlookers.  Were the Roman soldiers being cheered as they marched into to Jerusalem?  If I were a Roman citizen, I would have cheered at the martial display of power and prestige.

We know that there were spectators as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  8 Many people spread clothes in the road, while others put down branches which they had cut from trees. 9 Some people walked ahead of Jesus and others followed behind.
And they cheered as Jesus rode by:

“Hooray for the Son of David!
God bless the one who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hooray for God
in heaven above!”

On the east side of Jerusalem, on the west side of Jerusalem, there was excitement.

What happens when those two parades meet in the middle?

I see this long-ago meeting as an allegory for our own lives.

If we simplify the two parades into symbols of our world, we claim Jesus as the symbol of all that is good and just and righteous.  We label the Roman army as a symbol of all that seeks to crush that goodness and justice and righteousness.

It is perhaps too simplistic to reduce these two processions to good and evil.

But that’s how it happened 1,984 years ago.

And it still happens.  It is tempting to label opposing military or political forces in the 21st century as good and bad.  However, that cheapens the complexity of human relations.

My thought is that within me, those two forces are always marching against each other.
Everyday of my life, I am the host of the goodness of Jesus and the corruption of the world.

Everyday, minute by minute, hour by hour, those forces collide in me.

We know, by now, after 1,984 years, that the ultimate power is not one of force, but one of grace and love and mercy.  The battle has been won, but the skirmishes continue.

I pray that Jesus may march through my heart, and that forces of evil become tools for good.

Imagine those two procession, one spontaneous and disorderly, the other structured and rigid, marching toward each other.  Common sense tells us the soldiers will march right over those peasants throwing their carpet of coats before Jesus.

But once again, we are reminded that love conquers, that grace prevails, that mercy holds the power.

Praise be to God as we enter this Holy Week, armed with God’s love.  Amen.

Not for Lazarus Only

11 1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

4 When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”

5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. 6 But he stayed where he was for two more days. 7 Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to Judea.”

8 “Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”

9 Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”

12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”

17 When Jesus got to Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many people had come from the city to comfort Martha and Mary because their brother had died.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will live again!”

24 Martha answered, “I know that he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised.”

25 Jesus then said, “I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26 And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord!” she replied. “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.”

28 After Martha said this, she went and privately said to her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here, and he wants to see you.” 29 As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and went out to Jesus. 30 He was still outside the village where Martha had gone to meet him. 31 Many people had come to comfort Mary, and when they saw her quickly leave the house, they thought she was going out to the tomb to cry. So they followed her.

32 Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset 34 and asked, “Where have you put his body?”

They replied, “Lord, come and you will see.”

35 Jesus started crying, 36 and the people said, “See how much he loved Lazarus.”

37 Some of them said, “He gives sight to the blind. Why couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still terribly upset. So he went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone rolled against the entrance. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you had faith, you would see the glory of God?”

41 After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up toward heaven and prayed, “Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. 42 I know that you always answer my prayers. But I said this, so that the people here would believe that you sent me.”

43 When Jesus had finished praying, he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The man who had been dead came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth, and a cloth covered his face.

Jesus then told the people, “Untie him and let him go.”

45 Many of the people who had come to visit Mary saw the things that Jesus did, and they put their faith in him.
Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society
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Romans 8:1-11Contemporary English Version (CEV)

8 If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. 2 The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death. 3 The Law of Moses cannot do this, because our selfish desires make the Law weak. But God set you free when he sent his own Son to be like us sinners and to be a sacrifice for our sin. God used Christ’s body to condemn sin. 4 He did this, so that we would do what the Law commands by obeying the Spirit instead of our own desires.

5 People who are ruled by their desires think only of themselves. Everyone who is ruled by the Holy Spirit thinks about spiritual things. 6 If our minds are ruled by our desires, we will die. But if our minds are ruled by the Spirit, we will have life and peace. 7 Our desires fight against God, because they do not and cannot obey God’s laws. 8 If we follow our desires, we cannot please God.

9 You are no longer ruled by your desires, but by God’s Spirit, who lives in you. People who don’t have the Spirit of Christ in them don’t belong to him. 10 But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. 11 Yet God raised Jesus to life! God’s Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

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How fortuitous that this text is assigned for the Sunday after my father died.

Perhaps because there have been times in my life when death seemed like the best choice, I find death to be a friend. In my short stint as a hospital chaplain, I have been at a variety of death bed scenes.  The best are when the dying person is surrounded by family and friends who are prayerfully cheering the person on as she or he moves on to the next life.

However, death is more often frightening and the thought of death holds us in a fearful embrace that destroys peace and defies comfort.  When death comes early or suddenly, when death cuts short the life of a person whose responsibilities encompassed many persons and many roles, death is the enemy.

One of the more interesting novels I’ve read is Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago.  The setting is an unnamed Western European country.  In this one country, people stop dying. No dies.  People continue to be born.  People continue to age.  Soon the nursing homes are full.  People try sneaking their loved ones out of the country, hoping to bring them release from deteriorating life. Funeral directors are reduced to doing funerals for pets. The Church loses its relevance because eternal life is no longer a concern, if one cannot die.

We all know of times when death is the answer, when death is a blessing.

Still, death disrupts, robs, hurts, confuses. wounds.  We can speculate that Lazarus, as the only male in the household, was necessary for the lifestyle, perhaps the very house, in which Mary and Martha lived. To be able to have a life that included a home and food and status, a woman needed to be connected to a man.  That’s the way it was and that’s the way it still is for many people.  It’s not good or bad, unless it doesn’t work to everyone’s benefit.

The household of Mary and Martha and Lazarus was one of Jesus’ favorite hangouts.   It was about two miles from Jerusalem, which made it both a safe haven for Jesus and a convenient headquarters close to the action of the capital city of Jerusalem.  Because hospitality was an important characteristic of Jewish culture, the MML household was probably a popular gathering spot whenever Jesus was in town. “Everybody” knew that Jesus had special connections with the family.  A chance to hear Jesus in a home known for its hospitality was not to be missed.

By the time this event takes place, Jesus is wanted by both Jewish and Roman authorities.  They know he is dangerous, but they have a hard time pinning down both him and his crime.  Because of this, the disciples were not comfortable with Jesus going to Bethany, and they were especially fearful that his visiting Lazarus tomb would attract the wrong kind of attention.

Jesus is adamant: he loved the members of this special family and he wanted to be present to mourn with them.

I know what this is like; perhaps you do, to.  On Tuesday, people form Florida and Texas and North Dakota will be attending my father’s funeral. When we share in the death of a person, we  come not only to honor that person, but to mourn in the company of others, and to celebrate that life in the company of those who loved him. That companionship strengthens the healing process we need after a death.

I have experienced the death of people whose families respected their wishes for no funeral or gathering of any kind.  I always question the wisdom of those wishes.  I find that funerals are the time when we most need each other, when we are most open to expressing our love to each other.  In the last few days, I have seen the word “love” written and spoken by a number of people. We don’t use that word lightly when it comes to people.  It’s easy to say, “I love the Cubs,” or “I love pizza,” but to say that out loud about or to a person is the result of a deep relationship, a strong connection with the deceased and the friends and family.  A funeral gives us that opportunity.

Mary and Martha were upset with Jesus because he had missed that opportunity.  By the time Jesus got to Bethany, the body was buried and not appropriate for viewing.
But Jesus had a plan:

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

and I love Thomas’ reply: “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.” Thomas is a realist.  Is he being sarcastic?  Resigned?  Is he trying to be funny?  Regardless, the whole group heads for Bethany, where Jesus  is both welcomed and scolded by the surviving sisters:

21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask.”
32 Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And even the rest of the crowd is skeptical of Jesus’ motives:

37 Some of them said, “He gives sight to the blind. Why couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Good question: After all, Jesus loved Lazarus.  He wept when he heard that Lazarus had died.  Why hadn’t he kept Lazarus from dying?  Why the unnecessary grief?

Jesus is not fazed by the snarky comments.   He has a plan.

41 After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up toward heaven and prayed, “Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. 42 I know that you always answer my prayers. But I said this, so that the people here would believe that you sent me.”

43 When Jesus had finished praying, he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The man who had been dead came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth, and a cloth covered his face.

In education, we call this a “teachable moment.”  This is another chance for Jesus to teach his followers about His power and His purpose. The lesson: Jesus has power over life and death.

That lesson is great if Jesus is still walking in person in your neighborhood.  But we know that Jesus left town via crucifixion a little later in the story.

So what is our lesson?  Let’s read Paul’s explanation of it in  Romans:

10 But Christ lives in you. So you are alive because God has accepted you, even though your bodies must die because of your sins. 11 Yet God raised Jesus to life! God’s Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit.

We will be raised from the dead.  That’s the truth that carries us Christians, that comforts us, that enables to embrace death, even when it is untimely.

I speak from my own experience now.  I have not been overcome by grief.  I am sad but I am happy, too, because all my life, I have known, as has my father, as has everyone in my family, that death is a process that is painful, but death also discovers that thin space where love takes over, where grace and mercy are no longer necessary, because the earthly body has been resurrected into the perfect body in a perfect heaven.

Lazarus took the trip twice. Most of us take it once. Because we are Christians, we can welcome those final steps that transport us from pain, from confusion, from despair, to everlasting joy, everlasting health, everlasting companionship with those who have gone before us.

Some of us have pictured my Dad being welcomed by frolicking baby lambs—he did enjoy them and raised lots of them. Some of us see him embraced by his own father, whom he admired immensely.  Some of us wonder if his goddaughter is waiting for him, or his cousin who, too, wanted to die on the farm. Neither one of them quite made it back to the farm, but they, and all the saints, have made it Home.

That is the beauty, the grace, the power of being Christians, of being followers of Jesus.
I thank God for the knowledge that this crazy, hugely successful idea of sending God’s Son to hang out with us, to discover what we needed, and to provide it.

Following Jesus is not just about getting into heaven. Following Jesus is about living a life that is meaningful, inspiring, and powerful from cradle to grave.  Amen.