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Our Gospel begins today with these two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. But they’re not really on the road to Emmaus. I mean physically they are. But mentally they are back in Jerusalem where three days ago Jesus was buried. And as they walk, this is the focus of their conversation.
They talk about how their hopes are crushed because they were sure Jesus was the one. They talk about how none of the disciples have seen Jesus. They talk about their deception and sense of disappointment. And you get the sense that this is the consuming focus of their lives. And it’s interesting that the other disciples are still back in Jerusalem but these two, for whatever reason, have decided to move on. But they can’t move on.
And I feel for them. Because I’ve been in situations and I’m guessing that you have too, where you find it difficult to move on from something. I think for all of us there’s something, or perhaps a few things from our past, that continue to affect us today. I think that happens all the time. Maybe you still feel the sting of something negative that someone once said about you, even though it was a long time ago. Or you still obsess on that one defeat, that game you lost, that one job you didn’t get, that one person who you asked out who stood you up. I remember it was 1992, I can’t even remember her name but I waited at that coffee shop for like an hour. She never showed up. And these things still live within us.
Or perhaps it’s something bigger than that. There is a story from a preacher last century named Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And back in the 1930’s, he gave a sermon at a church in Wales, where he was from. And after the sermon a couple of people came to ask him for help. They told the preacher that their local schoolmaster was going through a difficult time. He was depressed and discouraged and was having headaches and stomach aches. And they asked the preacher if he would see the man, and the preacher said yes.
So the preacher set up a meeting. And the schoolmaster came to him. And as soon as they sat down, the preacher could tell that the man was depressed. And the preacher asked him– what is the trouble? So the school master said – I have headaches and I’m not sleeping. And the preacher asked him – how long has this been going on? The man said it’s been going on since 1915.
And he told his story. Which was that when World War One broke out in 1914, the schoolmaster enlisted in the British navy. He was transferred to a submarine and it was sent to the Mediterranean. And one day as they were on patrol, the submarine hit a mine and it sank to the bottom of the sea. And since then, the man said, he has never been the same.
The preacher listened to his story and said to the man- tell me more. But the man said – that’s it, there’s nothing more to tell. This is how I’ve been since we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean. But there’s got to be more, the preacher said. No, the schoolmaster insisted, that’s the whole story.
And so the preacher asked him: are you still at the bottom of the Mediterranean? Because he knew that physically the man was not there at the bottom of the sea, but mentally that’s where he was, and where he had been for about fifteen years.
Then the preacher asked him: why didn’t you tell me about the rest of the story – that somehow you came up to the surface, and at some point someone on another ship saw you, they brought you in, they rescued you, and they brought you back to England and put you in a hospital? What about all that? You stopped your story at the bottom of the Mediterranean.
And when he heard this, the schoolmaster realized that what the preacher said was true- that he was stuck. And, according to the story, from that moment on, the man’s life got better. His symptoms disappeared and he was able to function well and even bocame an Anglican priest in the church in Wales.
And the preacher tells this story to illustrate the mindset of the disciples as they are walking on the road to Emmaus. That just like the schoolmaster, they are trapped, they are dammed up, something inside of them is caught and they can not see beyond the past. In this case it is their dashed hopes and disappointment related to Jesus. And they don’t even see Jesus who is right there among them.
Jesus told his disciples repeatedly that his life would end in Jerusalem, that he would be arrested and tried and crucified and that he would die and be buried. And maybe that’s all that these guys heard. Maybe they walked out of the movie at that point. Of course Jesus went on to tell his disciples that he would come back on the third day. And that he would triumph over evil and vanquish the powers of death, and that his victory would be our victory. But none of that mattered to these disciples because in their minds they were stuck there in the tomb just like he schoolmaster was stuck at the bottom of the sea.
And it makes me wonder where we are stuck – what thing are we fixated on and trapped by so that like this disciples we are unable to see the presence of Jesus here before us.
There are not a lot of times in the Gospel when Jesus gets upset, but this is one of those times. And he calls these disciples foolish and tells them that they are slow of heart. And we can understand that part of the reason Jesus is upset is that he’s a teacher and he has been trying to teach them, but they are failing this section of his class on resurrection. But I think he’s also upset with them because they are showing that they are not willing to believe. Or they believe in their story more than they believe in Jesus.
You know once you believe in God and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, however you define that relationship, life becomes this ongoing process of balancing. Life with God is always balancing on a tightrope between us and God, and on the one side you’re giving your life to God and trusting God and believing in God, and on the other you’re doing these things on your own, by yourself using your own strength and power
Much of my life, and perhaps yours as well, has been spent trying to figure out that balance between what is mine and what is God’s, between what can I do, what can I control, what’s in my influence, and what’s not, what can I give up, what can I let go of, what I can have faith about.
If you are familiar with the serenity prayer, it’s that part of the prayer where you talk about the wisdom to know the difference between the things you can control and the things you cannot. And I think this is the ongoing work of faith, trying to walk this tightrope between our control and God’s. And where it gets difficult and tricky, which we see in the Gospel today, is that our side of the balance is always weighed down by us.
What we bring to every encounter with God and every moment of life is this huge weight of us. And we bring within us all those things that trap us and bind us and keep us from seeing the presence of Jesus, and keep us from having faith in Jesus, and keep us from believing that what Jesus says is true. For in all of these places we get stuck, either back in Jerusalem or at the bottom of the sea or in some café waiting for our date who never shows up.
And just like the schoolmaster and the disciples today, we convince ourselves that the stories we tell ourselves are all true and complete and that’s it. There’s no more. So the solution is to get a bigger story, which is what Easter is all about – telling this bigger story, a story which is more grand and glorious than the stories we tell ourselves, a story that is more full of hope and promise than the stories that the world out there will tell us.
Easter is the story sung by God. It is the story the creation sings when the winter is over and suddenly things are alive. And the story of hope which lifts us from the depths to live lives of a better future. Easter is the story of God’s gift of love for us, which frees us not just from sin, but frees us from ourselves, and from our fears and worries and judgments, and helps us be truly present to Jesus Christ right here.
And Jesus, himself, is the embodiment of Easter. He comes among us as a piece of that greater story. And just like with the disciples today, he is here to help us get over ourselves. I knew a therapist once who said that the basic message of all therapy is this: just get over yourself. Not that you’re not valuable or worthy or incredibly important – you are. But that doesn’t mean you are all there is to life. For you walk this tightrope you are on one side but on the other side is God. And the more you can get over yourself, the more you can give things to God.
And at the end of the day, Easter is about living every moment fully present to the gift of the Risen Christ. And yes I know we are physically here, but are we present to this moment and the gift of the risen Jesus right now? Do we feel his love?
Perhaps that’s as good a reason to come to church as any – because this is where we hear stories of love, stories that end well, for in God all things end well, stories of hope, stories that bring us to this moment where anything can happen and it’s going to be something good, for Jesus Christ has risen and the Lord is good indeed.
My prayer is that as we go forth today, we will sing this story of God’s presence in all our being, knowing Jesus here and finding him throughout our day. For his story is a good one, and worthy of telling.