The following sermon, based on Luke 24:13-35 and Ezekiel 37:1-14, was preached by the Rev. Amanda Currie for the closing worship service of Parkview Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon. The service was conducted by the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan on Sunday, October 5th at 4:00 p.m.
“Jesus came near and went with us”
This is not the first time I have attended a final worship service for a Presbyterian church that was closing. I remember being at the closing service for a little church in Hull, Quebec — Cushman Memorial Presbyterian Church — when they decided to close and their few remaining members joined with my home congregation in Ottawa. Many of us attended that service to sing in the choir and to welcome the folk from Cushman into the fellowship, service, and mission of our church.
But this is the first time that I have had the task of preaching at the dissolution of a congregation. It was up to me to choose the scripture texts for today (none being prescribed or even suggested for an occasion such as this). But surprisingly, as I reflected on this point in Parkview’s journey, the texts I would select quickly became apparent.
As your interim moderator from October 2006 to June 2008, I was with you as you made the difficult decision to close your doors. When I thought about the disappointment and disillusionment that many of you experienced at that time, my mind quickly went to Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus.
These two disciples of Jesus were reeling from the shock of what had happened to their teacher, and how his ministry had so quickly and completely come to an end. They’d been part of Jesus’ ministry for a long time — not 97 years, perhaps — but likely several months or maybe even a few years. But the length of time doesn’t matter so much as the fact that they had fully invested themselves in his way of life, in his mission to the world. They believed that he was the one — they hoped that he was the one to Redeem Israel, and they had given up everything else in their lives to work with him.
Sometimes I wonder why the disciples were so shocked by Jesus’ death. I mean, Jesus’ teachings and his actions had always brought him into conflict with the authorities. There were lots of hints that they wouldn’t put up with him for long, and Jesus had even told them several times that he would end up getting killed. I suppose it was just too difficult for them to face the reality that Jesus wouldn’t be with them forever — that things were going to change.
So when Jesus did finally get arrested, and when he was tried and sentenced and executed, his disciples were sent into a tail-spin. Jesus was dead. It was over. And they were walking away, sad and disappointed.
I imagine that some of you may feel something like those disciples at this, the end of Parkview Presbyterian Church. You have invested your lives — your time, your money, your energy and commitment — into the ministry of this church. And as you see it coming to an end, the disappointment and disillusionment may lead you to want to walk away in sadness and defeat.
But it was then, as Cleopas and his friend walked along the road trying to make sense of Jesus’ tragic end, that Jesus himself came near and went with them. We don’t know exactly what Jesus said to them as they went along. But it involved an explanation of the scriptures, pointing to the fact that Jesus had to die in order to be raised again and be glorified. Maybe Jesus mentioned the metaphor that he’d used earlier in his ministry — that when a grain of wheat falls to the ground it dies so that it may take root and grow into a new stalk.
At that point in their journey, the disciples could not yet take hold of the good news that they were hearing. All they could think about was death. All they could focus on was the memory of the past ministry they had shared with Jesus, and they just couldn’t deal with the fact that it was over.
For Parkview, today is a day for remembering and celebrating your past ministry with Jesus.
Cleopas and his companion likely remembered the day Jesus fed the crowd with only a few loaves and fishes. You will remember many church suppers, pot lucks, and food shared with local missions over the years.
The disciples likely remembered the times when they sat with Jesus to soak up his stories and teachings — how they struggled to understand, and how his wisdom changed their minds and hearts and lives. You will remember bible studies and church school classes, and the preachers and teachers of Parkview Church. And you will remember the ways that God’s Word made a difference in your lives as you explored it together.
The two on the road likely thought about how Jesus had sent them out in his name to preach and heal. They probably remembered how scary that was at first, and how Jesus encouraged them to go in faith and confidence. You will remember how you grew in mission and service through this congregation — how you learned to share your gifts, and how you took part in doing Christ’s work.
The disciples likely remembered how Jesus healed the sick and befriended those who were outcast. I hope that you will remember this church also as a place where healing happened — in relationships, in hearts and spirits — and where a community was formed — where you found yourself a part of the family of faith.
Both the first century disciples and today’s disciples at Parkview were blessed with the opportunity to join in the ministry of Christ. Both experiences included many high points and lots of struggles too. And both communities have the challenge of accepting death and imagining that where there is death in one ministry, God can indeed bring new life and hope.
The Session and members of Parkview have already begun to imagine the new life and ministry that will be born out of the closure of Parkview Presbyterian Church. We already know that through the funds and assets of this church, new churches will get their start. We have hope that through Parkview’s gifts, the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry will grow strong and continue to make a difference in the lives of our Aboriginal sisters and brothers. We expect that other ministries will also be strengthened, including Camp Christopher, Native Ministry in the north, and other new missions and ministries within our presbytery.
In a sense, the hope that we need to take hold of is very much like Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones. He knew that God had the power to bring life out of death, to turn despair into hope and new possibility. Cleopas and his companion needed that kind of vision before they could know that the end of Jesus’ ministry among them did not mean the end of Jesus’ ministry through them. And as they worked through their thoughts and feelings about everything that had happened, Jesus came and went with them.
Let me assure you today that Jesus will come. In fact, Jesus has come to walk with you on this your journey. No, it’s not the end of the journey yet. Did you think that this congregation closing meant that it was over? Certainly not! I am sure that God still has many plans for you, and that a great deal more of Christ’s mission will be done through the people of Parkview Presbyterian Church.
Recently, we have been encouraged in our Presbytery to think about Saskatchewan as a mission field. Together, as Presbyterians in this part of the country, we have a great deal of work to do in sharing the good news about Jesus Christ with all people.
Well, the disciples on the road that day did meet Jesus and walk with him. And Jesus did explain to them that his death did not mean the end of everything. But it wasn’t until later that they fully knew and fully trusted that he was with them — that he was alive. You see, they paused from their journey and they invited the stranger to stay with them. Then, when he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
Today, as we gather at the table that he has prepared, may God open our eyes that we may see Christ and truly know his presence. May we be fed and nourished by God’s Spirit, so that we will be equipped and ready for the missionary journey that still lies ahead. Jesus has come near, and he goes with us. May God bless our journey together. Amen.