April 6, 2008

Luke 24:13-35

It’s probably not too difficult for most of us to relate to Cleopas and his friend, trudging along the road to Emmaus after what was probably the greatest disappointment of their lives. Like them, many of us have experienced the loss of dear loved ones — sometimes suddenly, and other times at the end of long and painful illness. Some of us have survived losing jobs or relationships that have come to an end. Others live through each day with the extra challenges of physical or mental illness. Some suffer from discrimination, abuse, or debilitating poverty. And all of us, no matter how care-free our lives may seem, are daily confronted by the realities of violence, and war, and hatred in our world that we feel powerless to overcome.

Over the past two weeks, many people in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon, in some of our community agencies, and in the supporting churches, have felt a deep sense of disappointment at the provincial government’s withdrawal of funding for the “Station 20 West” project. As you likely already know, “Station 20 West,” at the corner of 20th Street and Avenue “L,” was to include affordable housing, a co-op grocery store, a public library, a medical and dental clinic, and space for a variety of other community agencies. And “Station 20 West” was a beacon of light — a sign of hope — in innercity neighbourhoods that are marked by poverty, ill-health, and hopelessness. We have a real reason to feel disappointed, to feel disillusioned, to feel rather hopeless in our efforts to care for all of the people who live in our city.

I think that all of these disappointments and struggles that we experience in life make it really difficult to believe in God. I totally understand if your teenage daughter is killed in a school shooting, that you might question the power of God. I think I get it that a single mother, living on assistance, who can’t figure out how to keep her kids well-fed and clothed and healthy on the income she receives, might start to wonder about the love of God. It’s not hard for me to believe that the most faithful and strong Christian might be thrown for a loop and question it all, when he gets a tragic diagnosis like cancer or AIDS or ALS, or some equally horrible news. Under those kinds of circumstances, I can picture myself trudging down the road with Cleopas too. I had hoped that Jesus was the one, but I must have been wrong. He’s dead, and I’ll soon be dead too, and that’s all there is.

But Cleopas and his friend were not alone that day as they commiserated with each other along the road. A stranger came along to walk with them, to listen to their story, and to offer them some hope. It’s not that the things that had happened in Jerusalem weren’t as terrible and awful as the disciples had described. It’s just that the story wasn’t finished when Jesus was tortured and died and was buried.

You see, they had misunderstood the kind of Saviour that Jesus was going to be. He wasn’t going to conquer the Romans by force. Violence and rebellion were never a part of God’s plan. Instead, he was going to be the suffering servant that the prophet Isaiah had promised.

In his life and ministry, Jesus embodied the amazing grace and love of God for all people. He taught about God’s forgiveness, and called everyone to turn their lives back to the ways of God — to live in loving relationship with the God that he called, “Daddy.” Jesus had a special care for the despised and outcast of society, for the poor, the sick, and the suffering. Both his words and his actions demonstrated God’s loving presence with those who were rejected or neglected by our human communities.

As Cleopas and his friend had witnessed, Jesus had the boldness to care for the least of society, even if it meant breaking some of the religious rules. Jesus had the audacity to claim a personal relationship with God that the religious leaders thought was impossible and arrogant. It was blasphemous, according to their understanding. And rather than continue to argue and to fight for his life, Jesus said what he had to say, and then he accepted their anger, fear, and violence against him. Can you believe that as he hung on the cross that Friday, he actually prayed that God would forgive them? “They don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.

But as Cleopas and the others would soon learn, that was not the end. The hatred and evil of the world that crucifies the innocent, that oppresses the poor, that causes all kinds of suffering and sadness DOES NOT WIN. Because God is more powerful than everything that seeks to hurt and destroy in our world. And though Jesus was dead — crucified by all the hatred, anger, and fear of humanity — God raised Jesus to live forever and to draw all people towards God.

On the road that day, two followers of Jesus were walking away in disappointment. They could not see any way for God (or for anyone) to overcome the setbacks they had experienced. They couldn’t see any hope. But the stranger who came to walk the journey with them was Jesus himself. Not only was he alive, but he was actually there with them, talking to them, walking with them, calling them to faith, to hope, giving them new purpose and even joy.

My prayer today is that each person who is struggling with sadness and disappointment would experience the presence of Christ along their journey. I have heard from many people over the years who have felt that kind of presence — something miraculous and holy that has carried them through extremely difficult times.

But I also believe that we are called to be that presence for one another. As individuals, and as the church, we continue Jesus’ work of accompanying those who are sad, those who are hurting, those who are doubting or disappointed. We are called to walk together, continually pointing to the hope that we have in God, embodying the loving, caring, listening, encouraging presence of Christ in the world.

The Emmaus story points to two central ways in which we come to recognize the presence of Jesus. One is through the Scriptures, in which we learn of God’s love and grace, through which God guides us on our journeys.
The second is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. When we break bread and share the cup in the way that Jesus taught us, gathering around the table to remember him, we truly experience his presence and are strengthened to continue our journeys.

I don’t know what lies ahead for those suffering from illness or injury or grief. I don’t know when relief will come for people living in poverty, or for those being battered by discrimination or abuse. I don’t know when or how we will put an end to war and violence throughout our world. I don’t know whether the Saskatchewan government will restore funding to “Station 20 West,” or whether the people of Saskatoon will work together to make it a reality without government funding.

But I believe that goodness is stronger than evil, and life is stronger than death. I believe that light is stronger than darkness, and love is stronger than hate. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

May we walk together in that sure and certain hope. And may all our words and our actions reveal Christ’s presence to those with whom we travel. Amen.