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On the Way

There are many beloved stories in the gospels, and I think today’s story found only in Luke is one of those- at least it is for me. All the recorded Easter stories are both mysterious and fascinating at the same time and in the story for today,  we catch a vision of a living Christ- not on a mountain top, not in an upper room nor any other special place where we might have expected such a revelation to take place. 

Lke 24:13-35

It’s on a road. And it’s not in a pronouncement but in a conversation, both on the way and around a meal table. The revelation is in very ordinary things of life.

Two disciples are on their way back to the little village of Emmaus. Not mentioned in any of the gospel narratives until now, Cleopas and perhaps his wife,  have left Jerusalem after the terrifying events of the previous Friday. They have heard the astounding tale from the women of Jesus possibly being raised from death but they didn’t hang around to see what might happen next. Clearly, they didn’t believe what the women had said. With no Facebook or Twitter to give them the breaking news of further mysterious appearances, you can imagine how they felt. Confused, sad and grieving the loss of their friend and all their hopes for the future. 

“We had hoped…” they say to the stranger who joined them on the road.

Those sad words resonated with me as I reread the story this week. One of the joys of preaching is that each time you come a text, no matter how familiar, there seems to be another truth or treasure waiting to be found. One that seems to touch you right where you are in your present circumstances. That is why, no matter what approach you may have to the Bible, be it progressive or conservative or anything else in between, it is the Word of God in and through which God becomes real and present to us even now in 21st century.

“We had hoped….”   I wonder what you have hoped for?

I had hoped that my children may have taken an interest in the church as Iain and I did…

Perhaps you had hoped the Christian church would have had a strong and influential voice for peace and justice in the world; for fair treatment of asylum seekers or unskilled workers and in so many other issues where people and their needs are subsumed into the need to balance the budget or to keep on the side of the rich and powerful ….

Perhaps you had hoped the fruits of our faith would be love, mercy and compassion: not fear, terror and xenophobia….

As a gathered community we had hoped our beloved Annie would have been able to continue her ministry among us….

“We had hoped…” these are words shared on the road as the two bewildered disciples make their way back home.

They are joined on the way by the yet unrecognised risen Christ. No sermon is preached. No, they engage in conversation with this stranger.  I think Luke’s details are important. Sometimes, it’s enough just to see Jesus as Mary did, or to hear of his resurrection as Peter and John did, or to be promised his presence as had been the experience of the other disciples.

And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes the move from doubt, fear, and grief to faith, hope and love takes both the time to walk from one town to another and the opportunity for an open and honest conversation. Sometimes the journey takes a life-time.

Do we do that?  Do we create room for open and honest conversation? To listen to one another, to share doubts and fears, to express our disappointments?........

How do we create room to voice what may be the three saddest words in Scripture…or in our lives. “We had hoped….”

In this morning’s story,  it’s “we had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”  

Few things are more painful than dashed hopes. And so before Jesus interprets Scripture, before he breaks bread, do you notice what he does?   He comes along side these dispirited disciples and he asks them to name their loss. Jesus sets us the pattern as individuals and congregations Before we talk, before we explain, before we invite, we come along side and we listen.

Naming our pain, our grief, our loss is important to moving beyond them. We can’t erase them or even leave them fully behind, but we can rise above  them so that they are no longer what defines us. You could even say that naming our pain, creates room to be surprised.

I wonder why the disciples are so disappointed?  I think it was because they basically misunderstood how God was working to save the world. Expecting a God of power, they got one of vulnerability. Expecting a warrior God, they got a suffering servant.  We might shake our heads now at their  lack of understanding, but let’s remember that pretty much everything they had experienced or been taught thus far made it impossible for them to imagine God’s work in Jesus. Seen this way, Jesus’ words about hearts as foolish as they are slow to understand are not so much a rebuke as lament, perhaps even grief at the pain they suffer because of it. 

While the disciples may be disappointed because they misunderstand God in the world, their pain and grief are real and Jesus is well aware of this. So in inviting them to name their disappointment there is now room to be surprised by God’s showing up just where they least expect God to be.

And that still happens. When we name our grief, pain, disappointment and fear in the safety of the community of faith and with the assurance of grace, we find these things have less of a hold on us and discover room to be surprised, once again, byresurrection, new life -  by the Risen Christ’s presence, love, and promises as we journey on the road of life. 

I have seen this happen here in this community called TUC through the care offered one to the other. I have experienced in recent times among some of you as we have gathered together to listen to one another, naming fears and doubts and raising troubling questions about faith. I think it would be fair to say that hearts have been warmed as scriptures have been explored and the various ways the tradition may be interrupted have been discussed. Hope is reborn as God surprises with new insights and new truths. 

Dashed hopes to burning hearts.  Disappointment to joy. This is the movement of the Christian faith and experience because it is, in reality, the movement from cross to empty tomb and from death to life. The risen Christ continues to open our eyes to his presence in the ordinary things of life, in Scripture  and as we are about to do here, in the meal we call the Lord’s Supper where he is both guest and host. May our hearts burn within us as we recognize him in the breaking of bread, experience his presence in our conversations on the road before us and are surprised by God’s joy in the life we share. Amen 

Rev Margaret Middleton

Adapted from “On the Road”  by David Lose (davidlose.net in the MeanTime, April 24, 2017)

 

The Reverend Margaret Middleton is a retired Uniting Church minister  who has served as a pastor at Tamworth, Nambucca Heads-Macksville and Dubbo before retiring to Canberra where she is an active member and minister in association at Tuggeranong Uniting Church.

Quote for today

...But you know Him, for He lives with you, and will be in you. John14:17

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Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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