Apr. 26, 2020 – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Apr 26, 2020 in Easter, Sermons

The Third Sunday of Easter

April 26, 2020

Ironically, our gospel reading today finds two disciples traveling close together, joining in with a third person, conversing as they go — at a time we cannot. They invite the stranger to stay that evening, they are together at that table, seeing him bless and break the bread. Which we also don’t get to do. We have shown ourselves to be creative and resilient in this, to find Easter hope and alleluia joy in what we can do, in the ways we can gather. We are perhaps made for rising to this challenge! Seeing this gift from God come about is beautiful beyond my ability with words. Our collect prays God will “open the eyes of our faith.” This is what has happened as we experience the Alleluia of the risen Christ, and there were tears as we experienced a newly defined wholeness as the Body of Christ.

We’ve had the other kind of tears too, as we lose people we love, as we see them such and suffering — and the worst is that we don’t get to be with them. People are suffering in isolation with medical staff doing their best to offer moments of personal human connection amid the impossible pace and danger they face. It breaks my heart that so many do not get to say those words of goodbye and I love you, or they are offered at the door to the emergency room or ambulance. Compassionate nurses steal a few moments to hold up cell phones for patients to hear their loved ones when death is immanent. Nursing home staff keep families up to date and relay messages to those quarantined. Many of you know such experiences better than I can describe certainly, as spouses agonize without being able to help each other, or parents and children. I heard one nurse interviewed say she felt so blessed to be able to be there in such a time and help, but that it ripped her heart out at the same time.

We are so blessed to have a great many ways to heal and to prolong our lives, that we are sometimes surprised when death defies our best laid plans. Yes, people have been ill and died alone before — and it was no good for them either. Then and now it is community and relationships which we hold fast to for comfort, hope, love and solace. This pandemic steals that from us, so we valiantly seek it through alternate and creative means, like this service right now, going online with family and friends, or online support gatherings. One preacher said “Community still exists, but sensory deprivation is a price we pay.” Seeing pictures of altars and prayer areas many of you have created, I give thanks to see that you recognize this need and stir your senses towards God from each home — and yet we still ache for the fullness of we have come to know and love.

So hearing the gospel today feels just a bit cruel in light of this reading, as they travel and walk together, talk and eat together. Yet Cleopas travels with an unnamed disciple, whom I think symbolizes ourselves. As if being there we see how in their greatest pain and grief Jesus comes to them. Resurrection has occurred, even as they unknowingly lament Jesus’ apparent failure to do so. The “redeeming of Israel” as they envisioned it failed to come about; there was no triumphant cataclysm, no glorious rise to power from Jesus. The real Easter is different from their expectations, the risen Christ is not revealed in those things, he is revealed in the quiet humanity of their hospitality as he blesses and breaks the bread with them.

Today, we recognize Christ in that way too, because while you who watch online are not physically sharing bread at this altar right now, we are in faithful union together where the bread of the body of Christ is blessed and broken and given, for Christ comes into our hearts, being present even when we cannot receive communion. Acknowledgment of this is why Saint Augustine’s prayer is in your bulletins ( Bulletin - April 26, 2020 - 10:30 AM, page 12) as we worship by livestream. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter invites the inquiring crowd to repentance and baptism, for “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Christ’s promise is given even for all who are far away. That us, so amen to that!

Beautiful, creative, and generous as our efforts at being community are, I hope this is the last ‘Pandemic Easter’ we ever have! We know people the world over are hurting, living in fear, and more. We can see ourselves walking dejectedly on the road that day, or with the bewildered women who just before this right to Jesus taking hold of his feet. Such physical closeness sounds strange to our new distancing sensibilities. I’m even envious of Peter teaching that crowd in person, rather than my visualizing you while preaching into the lens of a webcam. (Did Paul and the others feel the frustration of distance as they sent epistles out?) The story sounds so far away and so long ago – how can it relate to us here and now? Folks are increasingly tired, depressed, isolated, lonely, frustrated, scared and unsure. Now is when we remember this is the time Jesus came to those disciples on the road. This is when he came to the grieving women on their way to Galilee from the tomb.

Jesus’ resurrection becomes their good news out of the experiences of Jesus’ arrest, conviction, crucifixion, death and burial, those dark days we call Holy Week, and the subsequent disappointment, pain, and grief. Then, resurrection. Yes, even though we did it by live-stream, we still responded, “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” Resurrection came amidst all of what we wish had never come, a time of lament and great difficulty. That’s the powerful thing about Easter, it is in both of these at once, unnatural as that might feel. Jesus walks with them when they can’t see him, teaches them when they are still too set in their it-didn’t-happen mindset to listen. He doesn’t argue about what they feel or try to correct them, like a good grief counselor he doesn’t attempt to fix them or rush them. He is simply present as they walk along, plodding through their heavy-hearted grief and confusion. He lets them pour it out because lament just takes the time it takes. Jesus walks with them through it all because darkness and lament is so often the road whereby we come to recognize new life. The Risen One walks patiently beside us, with no social distancing(!), so he is close enough for us to recognize him when we are ready.

Open the eyes of our faith, Lord. That we may evermore deeply proclaim your greatest truth, Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

© 2020 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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