Third Sunday of Easter
Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of my friend Kris’ death. I’ve shared stories about Kris with some of you before. I keep thinking about how he would be making the most of this challenging time. Kris would have been the first to organize a Zoom happy hour. He’d be checking in on his students and his friends all the time to make sure we were OK. He would be enjoying the chance to wear a sweatshirt every day. That guy loved a good sweatshirt. One of our friends dubbed him the “sweatshirt sommelier.” But he also loved dressing up in a tux, so I’m pretty sure he would also have talked us into having a Zoom black tie party.
When Kris died back in 2014, there was a memorial service down in Charlottesville. Several of us from the tri-state area flew down together that Saturday, thanks to the incredible generosity of a friend. Some of the folks on the plane I already knew. Some I met for the first time that day. But by the time we returned home, we were all friends. That’s what Kris did best. He brought people together and helped us multiply our friendships.
Grief is never easy. We are intensely aware of that these days. It’s especially hard when someone like Kris dies far too young, with a vibrant, unlived future stretching out in front of him. What we all found comforting – what we still find comforting – is telling stories. We keep him with us by sharing pictures of times spent with him. We tell stories about what he did and said, the countless ways he made us laugh. That’s what we did on the day of his memorial, and that’s what we’ve done in all the years since. Tell stories.
That’s what I picture at the beginning of today’s gospel. These people who had seen Jesus crucified are walking down a long road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, filled with grief. They’ve experienced something traumatic together, something they cannot process without turning to each other and talking about it. There are many surprising things in this story, but I am never surprised to hear that these travelers are, as the gospel says, “talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” Of course they were. That’s how we begin to make sense of what is senseless.
This story takes place later in the day on that first Easter. We don’t know why Cleopas and his companion are on the road. Perhaps they are afraid like the disciples were last week, afraid of the violence and persecution that might break out now that Jesus is dead.
Cleopas and his friend are walking and talking, and then Jesus is there walking with them. They don’t realize that it’s him at this point. It’s unclear why. The text says “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Were their eyes clouded by grief? Did Jesus somehow look different than before? We don’t know. But in this moment they do not know who Jesus is.
In a delicious bit of irony they tease this “stranger” about how clueless he is. They’re surprised that this person doesn’t know what has happened lately – doesn’t know who Jesus was and how he was crucified. Jesus plays along, pretending that he has no idea: What things? When, of course, no one knows what has happened better than he does.
Here’s the most painful moment in this story for me. Cleopas and his friend say about Jesus: “But we had hoped that he was the one to set Israel free.” Had hoped. So much grief contained in those two words. Had hoped. All that they had wanted Jesus to do for them, all the ways that they saw Jesus turn the ways of the world upside down, all of the possibilities and dreams and freedom that he had offered were gone – or so they thought.
We know something these days about “had hoped.”
We had hoped to be with our friends and stage the musical and have a family reunion and play some baseball. We had hoped to hug grandma on her birthday. We had hoped to be there to say goodbye. We had hoped to gather the whole family together for the funeral. We had hoped to go to the hospital to meet the baby. We had hoped to take that spring break trip. We had hoped to have the wedding this spring. We had hoped…had hoped…had hoped.
What does Jesus do for these heartbroken friends walking down the road? First, he walks with them. Jesus meets them on the road. He meets them right where they are.
He lets them tell their story. He could have corrected them immediately, set them straight, but there’s something important about letting a grieving person tell us how they are grieving.
Preacher Anna Carter Florence reminds us about grief: “It’s the road we all have to walk, sooner or later. We walk it again and again. When we aren’t walking it ourselves, we fall into step with someone else who is taking their turn.”[i] So maybe we learn from Jesus to invite each other’s stories and to listen to each other as we share them.
Jesus also helps these friends see that their story is part of a much bigger story – God’s story, as told in scripture. He opens that story to them in a new way – a way they don’t fully realize until later.
We, too, are part of a much bigger story. A story that, in spite of all its surprises along the way, no matter how many joys or heartbreaks it contains, always ends with resurrection. There is always hope on the horizon, a hope that rests completely in God.
The last thing that Jesus does for these friends is join them for a meal, a simple meal around the table where they offer him some bread. It’s in that simple, everyday moment that they finally realize who he is. He breaks the bread, and their eyes are opened.
It makes me wonder where we might be on the lookout for Jesus among us now. Where is he showing up, and how might our eyes be opened to see him?
I have loved the stories of hospitals playing special songs over the loudspeaker whenever a COVID patient is discharged. Often those speakers are used to announce codes, summon a crisis team, or share other scary news. But in these happier moments the medical staff gather to cheer and applaud as the patient is wheeled out to be reunited with family. It’s a way to remind themselves to stop and celebrate hope in the midst of so much despair. Here’s one of the songs some hospitals have used.[ii] I think you’ll recognize it:
[Play opening of “Here Comes the Sun”]
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun
And I say, it’s all right
Those patients are leaving the hospital with a long journey ahead. But they have life. And they have hope.
Here comes the sun. And here comes the Son – the Son of God, showing up in all kinds of places we might not recognize at first, including our own tables.
How might we see Jesus in each other?
How might we be Jesus for each other?
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] From Anna Carter Florence, Preaching Year A [an electronic resource], entry for the Third Sunday of Easter
This sermon was preached by Drew Seminarian Leif McLellan.
My dad is a doctor and my mom is a former nurse and, let me tell you, growing up with two medical professionals in the family was both a blessing and a curse. I was thankful that, whenever my body wasn’t cooperating, I could get my parents’ expert opinion. We could generally avoid a trip to the doctor’s office. However, my parent’s medical expertise sometimes worked against my wishes. See, I was a weird child because I hated missing school. I remember one morning before school I woke up feeling miserable. Feverish, weak, the whole nine yards. But I sat at the kitchen counter trying to muscle my way through a bowl of cereal. I was determined to get on that school bus. But my mom, the ever watchful nurse, noticed I was ill and she insisted I stay home. Good thing, too. Staying home allowed me to heal and prevented anyone else from getting sick. Because my parents knew when I was sick and because they cared for me so well, I was able to be honest about my own illnesses and I was able to heal.
Isn’t that how healing often happens? When we try to hide our wounds they can get worse. But when we reveal our wounds, they can heal. This happens with physical ailments, of course. If we go to the doctor for a broken bone, the doctor can give us a cast and medication. If we ignore the broken bone, the bone either doesn’t repair properly and we live with that pain. Our emotional and relational wounds seem to follow the same pattern. Who here has not felt the sting of loss or abuse or a broken relationship? When we receive these wounds, it can be tempting to deal with them alone. We like to think that we are self-sufficient, that we can heal ourselves. But like a broken bone, these internal wounds can get worse if they stay bottled up.
In our gospel reading for today the resurrected Jesus reveals his own wounds to his disciples. This passage begins with the disciples gathered together in Jerusalem on the third day following Jesus’s crucifixion. News was spreading that Jesus had risen from the dead. Those who had gone to visit Jesus’s tomb found it empty. Two of Jesus’s disciples had met him on the road from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. This news then reached Jerusalem and the disciples began discussing this strange yet wonderful information.
Then Jesus appears in their midst, saying “Peace be with you.” Even though Jesus brings this message of peace, the disciples are “startled and terrified,” …startled and terrified, like they had seen a ghost. I wonder how Jesus would have felt about this reaction. Not three days ago Jesus was publically stripped naked, mocked, and nailed on a cross for all to see. How humiliating. How shameful. This once powerful rabbi had been publically executed. Moreover, as Jesus predicted, his disciples had abandoned him. Jesus received not only the physical wounds from the cross, but also the wounds of shame, social isolation, and public humiliation. Yet, despite his shame, Jesus was able to go to his disciples. He bravely risked even more humiliation. However, his disciples were startled and terrified. I can hear the frustration and sadness in Jesus’s voice, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” Look! It really is me, the one you have followed and loved!
But then something miraculous happens. Jesus tells his disciples, “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” Jesus shows them where he received the wounds from the nails on the cross. The revelation of these wounds changes something in the disciples. Although it took time for the disciples to grasp what they were seeing, they were immediately filled with joy. As Luke writes, “While in their joy, they were disbelieving and wondering.”
In this joy, while they were doubting, Jesus asks his disciples for a piece of fish to eat and they give him one. Even after all the shame he experienced, Jesus still seeks fellowship with his disciples. Even after his death he invites his followers around the table again. Jesus shows up in his body, hurt and hungry. He shows his wounds to his dear friends. God uses these wounds, this hurt and hungry body, to restore a community that was once living in fear.
A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of traveling to South Korea for one of my classes. Much of the class focused on the tragedy of the so called Korean comfort women. The term “comfort women” was used by the Japanese military in World War II to name the estimated 300,000 girls and young women that they used as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers. These girls and women endured unimaginable horrors at the hands of Japanese soldiers. But the nightmares did not end with the war. Those women who were able to return to a peacetime society could not speak about their experiences. Because of cultural stigmas around sexuality, they feared deeper shame, humiliation, and social isolation. Since they could not share their experiences, their deep psychological and physical wounds grew even worse.
But in the early 90s things began to change. In 1991, Haksoon Kim was the first survivor to share her story publically. With the help of a Christian justice organization,[i]other comfort women began to courageously tell their traumatic stories and revealed their wounds. They have testified before the Korean, Japanese, and American governments as well as other international communities. Although the Japanese government still refuses to make amends, the comfort women have found healing in their testimonies and a supportive community. They have also formed the core of a movement that now supports victims of war and sexual violence across the globe.
When we were in Korea, we were blessed to meet Il Chul Kang, one of the few remaining survivors. She came out of her nursing home to meet us, walking slowly with an attendant supporting her. The first thing she did was shake each one of her hands. Then with a shaking yet confident voice she said, “Thank you all for coming. I am grateful for the United States and all who were fighting for the cause of the comfort women.” And she told us, “When I close my eyes I still see what happened to me.” As she spoke her face glowed with a deep calm. Even though she still had memories from the war, she clearly had also experienced profound healing. It was as if she had said to us, “Peace be with you. Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.”
Not only had God healed Il Chul and others like her, but God gave them the vulnerability to heal others. Vulnerability: the ability to risk the wounds of shame, failure, and defeat.[ii]These women were not captive to their wounds. God had transformed their pain and their shame into a new life for themselves and for others.[iii]
That’s the power of the resurrection.
In a world that that values appearances and demands we have everything together, we all have our wounds. What are yours? Do you feel like you have failed as a parent? Have you been hurt by a family member, a classmate, or a coworker? Are you struggling with that secret that’s weighed you down for years? Into our hurting places the living Christ comes and says, “Peace be with you. Look at my scars. I know your pain.” Christ knows our pain and still loves us beyond all our shame. And yes, despite all our shame God can use our wounds in ways we might not be able to imagine.
We are no longer captive to our shame. We no longer have to carry our burdens to the grave. We trust that God will transform our wounds into a new life of healing for us and for others. I pray that God will work in your life to transform your wounds into healing for a wounded world. Amen.