Hope in Hard Places: an Easter sermon

Hope in Hard Places: Jesus Joins Us in Our Journey Easter Sunday 5 April 2015

The Journey to Emmaus by 19th century Swiss painter Robert Zund

Rev. Shari Monson, Interim Pastor Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, Spokane WA


Luke 24:13-35 the Walk to Emmaus

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 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.

This is the Word of the Lord

Truly this is one of the most beloved accounts of Easter. Probably so because we can all imagine being part of it. You’re headed back home. It’s been a dreadful week. Business is lousy and you cannot figure out why. Your team had such promise. Your candidate polled with such strength. But now everyone is going to be shaking their heads for a long, long time.

This was the situation for Cleopas and his unnamed companion. She may have been his wife, might have been Jesus’ mother’s sister. They are walking the road to Emmaus eyes fastened on dust around their feet.

This is one of those conversations that lend itself to texting

  • Him: how ya doin?
  • Her: I just can’t believe Jesus is dead.
  • Him: yeah. He was so inspiring (long pause) I don’t get it.
  • Her: what do you think our welcome in Emmaus will be like?
  • Him: I think it is a good thing we are slipping in just before dark….

And then Jesus joins them asking what’s going on?

  • Him: where has this guy been? “Stone age emoji”
  • Her: knock it off Cleopas, I like this guy. (Put devices away)

The point is, once Jesus enters the conversation suddenly the dust around their feet is much less interesting. His rebuke of their foolishness is kindhearted. He lifts their spirits and suddenly they are engaged in matters of the heart, and faith, and family, and before they know it the outskirts of town emerge on the horizon. This is the kind of conversation that could go on, and should go on all day and all night.

The Journey to Emmaus by 19 c Swiss painter Robert Zund captures the essence of this scene with immense grandeur. Don’t’ you think?   In it 3 people are traveling together - 2 Disciples and the risen Lord between them. Their backs are to the viewer and it feels as though you are just a few steps behind listening in on their animated conversation.

Growing up I knew a couple named Larry and Priscilla. They had a replica of this painting. Upon entering their home guests were eagerly invited to view the painting. It did not take long to notice something important - the couple saw themselves in this painting.

As a younger man Larry was happily married, dad of 3 girls, and a promising career just taking off. One day his wife suffering a headache lay down for a nap. She never woke up. He had so hoped things would turn out differently. In a snap the future turned dark.

As a young woman Priscilla lived in an exotic locale with her missionary pilot husband and young son. One day he took off in a small plane to deliver another family to the other side of the mountains. Flight conditions changed unexpectedly. The plane crashed. In a snap she was a widow far from home. She too had so hoped life would turn out differently.

These 2 broken hearted people met and eventually fell in love and got married. Gradually their future together began to come into focus. It took time. It took support and intension. It was not picture perfect along the way. But hope did emerge.

They were fond of saying this about their story, “Jesus joined us. He was there in our sadness. In our confusion his people helped us find our way”.

If you stood there long enough, and, they were good storytellers, one of them might ask, “Do you know what Jesus is doing in this painting?”   He is explaining how the entire Hebrew Bible points to him – to his suffering, to his unjust treatment, to his death, and yes also to his resurrection!

Before too long you’d be enjoying a meal. And upon looking back it just may seem as though that was a moment faith came into focus. Your eyes were opened. The beauty of Easter made sense. Perhaps for the first time

How about you?

Where you here with us last Easter? At Hamblen things were clicking along. No one had a notion Pastor Ken would move to Seattle.

What was your world like a year ago? Where you concerned about Ebola or the threats of ISIS?

So much can change so fast.

Where are you on this journey in faith? Truly this morning we are all in different places. Some of us have eyes down in the dirt. Life’s messy right now. Some of us are scanning the horizon wondering what’s ahead.

It can take time for things to come into focus. But, Christian hope does emerge, even, and especially in hard places. The disciples on the walk to Emmaus knew this. So much so they race back to Jerusalem to help others see it too.

Friends the good news of Easter is it is:

  • Jesus is risen – and he joins us in our journey.
  • Jesus’ disciples got it about all of scripture – and have been pointing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection ever since.
  • Jesus people here at Hamblen, and wherever your journey takes you, believe the journey to hope in Jesus Christ is worth it.
  • Join us


Questions for Reflection:

  • Why do you think these two disciples are leaving Jerusalem?
  • What was hard about hearing of Jesus’ resurrection but not knowing what to do about it?
  • When was the last time you found hope hard to find? Were you able to find comfort in some way? How did that come about? Did disciples of Jesus play a role in some way or were the Scriptures helpful?
  • In what way is this appearance of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel meaningful to you today?
  • Is there someone who needs to hear about this from you?

Reflection Questions for Interim Ministry:

  • Jesus reveals his post-resurrection identity in this passage in the breaking of the bread. How is table fellowship being expressed/experienced in your context? In what ways does your practice reveal Jesus?
  • How does this passage speak to the interim ministry matters/situations you are grappling with in this season?
  • If you were preaching an "Easter" message in an interim context, how might you work with this passage?
  • In what ways do you find Jesus joining you in the journey?