Elizabeth’s sermon preached on Apr. 23, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Apr 23, 2023 in Easter, Sermons

The Third Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2023

Lord, as we walk our earthly path be with us on the road, accompany us and encourage us in all we do.  Amen.

This past January I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to both Israel and Palestine. I walked over the dusty roads, around various ruins, such as the newly excavated first century synagogue in Magdala, hometown of Mary Magdalene, and even took my shoes off on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. After getting blisters on my feet the first day, it was amazing that I still felt excited to put my shoes on each morning and did not truly feel the pain until after we got back each night.

The landscape was full of small fruit and nut trees, hills and small mountains, and flowers that gave off wonderful scents.

Everywhere I went, there were people speaking different languages, such as German, Tagalog, and Swahili to name a few, while the most common I overheard were Hebrew and Arabic. I met strangers who didn’t speak English, but we were able to make enough conversation to either take a picture, or just pass a smile in greeting to each other.

One of the more poignant moments was walking the Way of the Cross, there they call it The Via Dolorosa. I had in my mind that the stations would be quiet and dim, as most of my experiences of the Stations of the Cross were like that.

We started at the Temple Mount early on a weekday morning with few people around. The first few stations were underground, and as we stepped carefully over uneven and missing stones in the cobbled walkway, we could hear people talking and moving around on the street above. As we left the underground area and entered Old Jerusalem, we encountered people talking over each other, and we suddenly had to move through crowds of people on narrow streets. The noise, laughter, and yelling of a regular day in the city was jarring and distracting. It took until the eighth station before I asked God why I wasn’t more focused on where I was, on this sacred journey, which led to a shift in perception. I realized that for me, this was a sacred moment, but for the people walking around, we were just another group of pilgrims interrupting their daily lives. So, I decided to let the noise and distractions breeze past me, and in doing so, it let something inside me flicker with warmth and a feeling of God’s presence surrounded me.

In our Gospel reading, two disciples are walking towards Emmaus. I wonder what they were thinking after Jesus was gone? After the highs of the week earlier were then met with anguish. I wonder if disillusionment clouded their minds; Jesus had died, he left, and was not here.

When you are so filled with heartache, it can be hard to even conceive the possibility for hope. I imagine that the two disciples were talking about their grief, wondering if what the women said about Jesus being alive could possibly be true, and supporting one another in their sorrow.

They had been following Jesus, listening to his teachings, and suddenly he was gone, leaving room for doubt and fear to creep in and uncertainties to arise. How often do we find ourselves faced with a dilemma, an uncertainty, and suddenly we are lost or feel alone, even with friends all around us? Sometimes we need something outside of our own heads, guiding us, or showing us, we are not alone.

There were things I saw and noticed on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land that showed me God’s love and that we are not forgotten or alone. God is with us, moving through us, even when we do not see Him.

In Bethlehem, I met Daoud, a Palestinian Christian, from Tent of Nations. Their mission is to build a bridge of peaceful connection between people; as well as strengthen the connection of the people to the land. He and his family run an empowerment program for women and children from the Bethlehem area and to “help the oppressed and the marginalized to realize that they are powerful, and that they can also do something positive, even if they have to live under difficult conditions.” Daoud told us even when he is attacked, when people destroy his land and trees, when his body is weak, he knows he is not alone.

It can be hard to have faith amidst devastation, but we can be heartbroken and have faith. We can be angry, and still have God’s love.

The two disciples were kept from recognizing Jesus. I wonder why. Was it because they had doubts? Was it because they were not yet ready to see Him? How often in our lives are we not able to see that God is right here. It is easy to be so preoccupied as we live with our own difficulties and challenges, that we can easily be kept from seeing God. Sometimes we need to yell, to cry, or to call out “Help me, I’m lost.” This does not mean you are alone. You can still feel lost and walk with God.

When I was in Jerusalem, we met with two members of the Parents Circle, an Israeli and a Palestinian who shared their personal stories of the deaths of their children and family members in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and explained why they chose to come together to talk and work with one another, instead of acting with revenge on each other. In their darkest moments, they supported each other. It did not negate their grief and struggles, it did not disperse their feelings, but they were not alone in their grief. They did not suddenly change religions, but they were able to lean into their respective faiths, be more accepting of each other and each other’s religions, and let God continue to guide them every day.

As followers of Jesus, Christ who loved them, these two disciples experienced the worst few days of their lives and now they are just trying to cope with a life without Jesus. Imagine the grief that they were feeling!

As they walked to Emmaus they met an unknown man, who stirred their hearts. In ASL, there is a sign that is hard to put into words, but means, a fluttering or a filling of the heart. It does not mean that the heart is filled with joy, but that there is something that moved it. I can only imagine that this is what the disciples felt.

The disciples invited Jesus to dine with them and stay the night, as Jesus had invited others similarly in the past. When Jesus “was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” They knew that feeling in their hearts, that stirring, was telling them that Jesus was here all along!

Sharing a meal is such an important part of our lives. The last time of Jesus’ earthly ministry where he broke bread with the disciples, we call it The Last Supper. To me, this is almost like “The First Supper.” We break bread and share the Eucharist together. We eat with our friends and family.  At each of these instances, there is a gathering of community, chatter as we set the table, and a willingness to take a pause, sit down, and share a part of ourselves with one another.

They did not even pause to finish their meal, but “got up and returned at once to Jerusalem,” to confirm the news the women had shared that “it is true! The Lord has risen.”

How often do we go about our lives, not recognizing God is right here with us. Did we recognize God in the face of the person who just lost their job… in the friend who stayed up with us until 1am while we grieved over a traumatic event… in the hands of the nurse who came to check on you and give you more pain medicine? Looking back, I saw God in both the Palestinian and Israeli people I met in the Holy Land.

Our journey is not easy, and often we do not realize who is walking beside us. I invite all of us to be more present in the moment, to pause and breathe deeply. It is not about checking the right boxes or saying the right things, to make sure we look good or pass the “faith test.” Life sometimes hurts, and when it does, remember that you are loved, and you are not alone. Maybe we are all on a walk from Emmaus, travelling with others which means we are travelling with Christ.


© 2023 Ms. Elizabeth Holland. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 10:30 AM on Wed., Apr. 23, 2025.