The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday, April 26, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. During these unusual times, you can join me Monday-Saturday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

We’re learned a lot of new terms and phrases since the beginning of this pandemic: sheltering in place, social distancing and so on. Lately the one that has struck me as odd is “opening the economy,” because while I understand what people mean by that phrase, I would have picked a different term. The entire economy hasn’t closed, we haven’t stopped exchanging money for goods and or services. Sections of the economy are closed, but other sections are booming.

Toilet paper. Lysol products. Hand sanitizer. They are almost consistently sold out. So is flour and yeast because suddenly baking bread is North America’s number one past time.

You know what else has been selling really well and as a result have become difficult to find? Puzzles.

Just go online and try to buy one, it’s almost impossible.

I have been doing puzzles since before it was cool and I love how the picture begins to take shape as I slowly fit in piece after piece.

Sometimes when a puzzle wasn’t created very well, it’s possible to put the same piece in multiple places. You can put a piece in a space it’s not meant to go.

I hate that.

Othertimes, I know I need a particular piece and I look and I look and I sift and I sort and I just can’t seem to find it. I know I need an orange piece with three outies and one innie and it’s got to be in the box but I just can’t find it.

Until suddenly I realize I’ve been staring at the piece I needed the whole time, I just hadn’t recognized it.

Our gospel story begins, “Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all the things that had happened.” (13-14)

Seven miles is a little over 11 kilometers so this is a decent walk. More than long enough to have a rich detailed conversation, if you’re so inclined.

So, two of them are walking, which two? One is a man named Cleopas, he is named in the text, and N.T. Wright speculates that the second person is his wife, Mary. There is a story in the gospel of John about a married couple with those names and Wright believes that it is likely that these are the same people. (John 19:25).

So if Wright is correct, Mary and her husband Cleopas are walking to Emmaus talking about current events, and there would have been a lot to talk about. There hadn’t been a slow news day in quite some time. First Jesus was arrested, then tried, then crucified and then well, the next part of the story was rather puzzling.

Beyond current events, we don’t know exactly what they were talking about but whatever the content of the conversation, the purpose of the conversation was most likely to try and make meaning out of everything that had happened. To try and wrap their heads around all of the ways their lives had been turned on their heads in such a short period of time. To try and make sense of things and to try and decide what they should believe, how they should feel, what they should do next.

I suspect we all can relate to this unsettled feeling. The events are different, and each one of us is having a different experience of this pandemic, but all of our lives changed in a very short period of time when it became clear that we needed to begin to shelter in place to protect each other by limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Did you have exciting plans over the next few months? Well, odds are they are cancelled. And you can’t really make a lot of new plans either. Pretty much everything that hasn’t been turned into a Zoom meeting is in a holding pattern right now.

This is not how I thought my spring would unfold.

I never thought I’d spend so much time at home. I never thought I’d sing into a computer. I never thought I’d wear a mask at the grocery store. I never thought I’d watch TV and shout, “stop touching your face!” and “Why are you standing so close together?” and seriously people, STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACES!

And I certainly never thought I wouldn’t be able to hug my family whenever I wanted to.

Life has changed, we will never go back to the way things were, but we can, and we will go forward. (Deborah Frances-White)
But right now, we are like Mary and Cleopas, walking on the road, trying to make sense of things that make no sense.

It is at this point, that Jesus appears and joins them on their walk, but they don’t realize that it is Jesus. (15)

It’s not that Jesus was automatically unrecognizable, the text tells us that, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (16). Jesus approaches them and asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (17)

After Jesus asks the question, we’re told, “They stood still, looking sad.” (17)

Have you had a chance to stand still since this pandemic began? Have you been able to make space for your grief?

Everyone is having a different experience of this pandemic. Some people are finding themselves with not enough to do. Some people are finding new ways to fill their time. And some people are working more than they ever have before.
But I believe we are all, in our own ways, grieving. And I hope, we will all find space to stand still and acknowledge the truth of what we are feeling.

I hope we will learn to be honest and gentle with ourselves. Knowing that whatever we are feeling is OK, and whatever we need to do to get through this pandemic is exactly what we need to do.

No judgement, only curiosity. No condemnation, only gentleness.

Jesus has asked them a question, “What are you talking about?” and now Cleopas and Mary have a choice to make – will they tell the truth to this stranger, or will they lie? Will they admit that they are talking about Jesus? Will they admit that they are also follows of Jesus?

It’s a difficult decision to make, this man is a stranger and they have no reason to trust him, they have no reason to trust that if they tell this stranger that they are followers of Jesus Christ that they won’t be reported to the authorities.

And yet, that is what they choose to do.

Even though it was dangerous, they not only tell Jesus the basic details of recent events, they boldly make it clear that they were among Jesus’ followers. They don’t say, “Jesus of Nazareth who some people thought was a prophet,” they say, “Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (19)

Of this they are confident, Jesus was a prophet. But then, as they continue to tell the story, their confidence wavers. “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.” (21)

“We had hoped,” they said.

Now those hopes are gone. They had believed that Jesus was a prophet, but more than that, that he was the Messiah. The one who would save Israel. And now they’re not sure.

Jesus died, which logically means he couldn’t have been the Messiah. Or at least, that’s what they’d thought for the past few days, but now, some members of their company have claimed to have seen Jesus alive so… what are they supposed to believe?

I believed a lot of things two months ago that I don’t believe now. They are smaller, more mundane things than whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, but I understand the unsettling feeling of discovering that things you were sure were true, aren’t true. I understand how it can make even the ground underneath your feet begin to feel unstable.

I have different hopes as well. Two months ago, I hoped for many things that just aren’t going to happen now. And now, while I still have hope, my sense of the future, of what I can look forward to feels cloudy, feels a bit like what I imagine Mary and Cleopas are feeling as they tell their story to Jesus.

N.T. Wright notes that, “Cleopas’s puzzled statement only needs the slightest twist to turn it into a joyful statement of early Christian faith: ‘They crucified him – but we had hoped he would redeem Israel” would shortly become “They crucified him – and that was how he did redeem Israel. But before they could begin to understand what had just happened they had to be prepared. They, like everybody else in Israel, had been reading the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope. They had been seeing it as the long story of how God would redeem Israel from suffering, but it was instead the story of how God would redeem Israel through suffering…” (N.T. Wright)

Jesus listens to Mary and Cleopas, even though he actually knows the whole story. Never underestimate the value of listening to someone else’s story. Even if you already know the basic details, there is power in letting someone talk and listening when they do.

And after he listens, Jesus says, “You’ve got everything you need to understand what is going on, you’ve just got the puzzle pieces all mixed up. Here, let me sort it out for you.”

And then, Luke tells us that, beginning with the stories of Moses and all the prophets, Jesus beings to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. Without revealing his own identity, he fits all the details of scripture and current events together to show who the Messiah is and why he had to die. (25-27)

He doesn’t finish the puzzle though, he saves the final piece for later in the story.

When their destination is in sight, Mary and Cleopas invite Jesus to stay with them and he agrees. They eat a meal together and during that meal, Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, the imagine suddenly clicks into focus.

Luke tells us, “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” (30-32)

They were so excited, that they leave their home and go all the way back to Jerusalem, another seven miles, so that they can tell the other disciples what has happened. When they find them and told them everything that had happened they said, “he was made known to us in the breaking of the bread.” (33-35)
For the time being, in order to show love to each other and to our neighbours, we cannot gather together, we cannot break bread in this building, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus will not be made known to us.

Although we are often quick to point out the parallels between this story of Jesus breaking bread and our eucharistic practice, that moment actually has a lot more in common with an everyday meal in your home. Gathering for eucharist is so valuable and I long to be able to do it again, but it is not the only way we can encounter the risen Christ.

May you encounter the risen Christ when you go for a walk outside.

May you encounter the risen Christ when go online.

May you encounter the risen Christ whenever you sit down to eat.

And if you’re one of the lucky people who has flour, and yeast, and the time and inclination to bake your own bread, then I pray that Jesus will make himself known to you in the baking of that bread.

May you encounter the risen Christ throughout each day, whatever it holds.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.