The Next Right Thing

Easter 3A-20
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

I have to say the Road to Emmaus is one of my favorite bible stories. It happens on Easter Sunday. Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!) The women discovered the stone rolled away and the empty tomb. They ran to tell everything. Angels dressed in dazzling clothes told them Jesus is risen. ‘But these words had seemed to the disciples an idle tale, and they did not believe.’ (Luke 24:11)
“On the very day we pack our churches, flower our crosses, and sing our “Alleluias,” the road to Emmaus stretches out ahead of us, offering defeat, disillusionment, and misrecognition. Which is to say, sometimes resurrection takes longer than three days. Sometimes new life comes in fits and starts. Sometimes, seeing and recognizing the risen Christ is hard.” (Debi Thomas, But We Had Hoped, Journey with Jesus, 4/19/20).

This is a recurring theme in scripture and in life: what we think we know blinds us from seeing what we come to know later with the benefit of hindsight. “The crucifixion of Jesus was … the complete and final devastation of their hope.” They all knew what the book of Deuteronomy said. A crucified person is under God’s curse (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). So, for them, Christ on a cross, had a perfectly clear theological and political meaning: It meant that the exile was still continuing, that God had not forgiven Israel’s sins, and that pagans were still ruling the world.” (NT Wright)
And so, on Easter, the disciples headed home. They gave up. Their dreams ended in violence and shame. They are shuffling from Jerusalem to Emmaus in grief and despair—when Jesus came walking beside them!

That first Easter on the Emmaus road seems a little like our Easter this year. We too are in exile from everything we thought was normal. We have experienced so many losses –baseball games, live theater, restaurants, biking on the lakefront—so many things we love about living in Chicago. We’ve lost our schools, our place of worship, time with friends and family. Many have lost income, jobs, or relationships. Tragically, thousands of families across America have lost a loved one to the virus.

On New Year’s Eve, I remember feeling hopeful about a new decade for 2020. Like Cleopas and the other disciple, I had hoped this would be a better year. I had no idea what we would all be experiencing today. The disciple’s great discovery opens out of our COVID-inspired gloom. They felt their hearts burn while Jesus walked with them recounting scripture. Their eyes were opened as he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, the disciples knew Christ was alive and that he had been with them all day long.

Then they did the most amazing thing. They turned around. Although the sun had set, they turned from their terror, their tears, their grief, their suffering, their fear of death, the soreness in their feet and in their hearts; their need for rest and their fear of the open road at night. The resurrection shattered the illusion of what they thought they knew and opened their minds to new way of understanding what life is, with new goals and direction. Because Christ is alive and lives in us, we can turn too.

Even in these bewildering days we draw strength knowing there is no place outside the circle of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the living sanctuary of hope and grace in which we dwell even while we must remain apart. This fundamental truth gives inspiration to our mission at Immanuel. Dwelling in the shelter of God, our fears can turn to hope, our anxieties can become compassion, our suffering can become seed sewn in us bearing wisdom. As Peter proclaimed in the Book of Acts, ‘this promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him’ (Acts 2:39).
So, what are we to do? We for whom Easter takes longer than three days? We for whom the meaning of Easter is still unfolding? Let’s not just wait for everything to go back to normal. Let’s turn toward a new normal. As the disciples set out for Jerusalem, they sped along the unseeable road into an unknowable story they would continue to travel for the rest of their lives. They did do so with joy because now they could see Christ with them at table in all their meals, Christ with them in every person they encountered, Christ with them in the privacy of their innermost thoughts, Christ before them to shine a light upon their path. Because Christ is in, with, and under everything, they let go of what they thought they knew and focused on the next right step, and then the next one and the next one.

That’s right, I commend to you the wisdom of Pabbie the Troll King, a character in Disney’s latest blockbuster. We’ve been watching a whole lot of movies at our place during the lock down. This week, Leah and I finally sat down for Frozen 2. King Pabbie’s advice to Princess Anna is theme running throughout the movie. He wisely says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

“O God, you call your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown” (Evening Prayer, ELW, p. 317) In other words, we just do the next right thing, guided by Christ to love one another a little better, to connect and help shoulder each another’s pain, to learn from these days and not forget the disparities we see, the heroism we see in the helpers and essential workers, the need we have for real human connection in this social media flooded world. Let’s remember what fresh air smells and looks like so we can hand it down to our children. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for in doing so we may entertain angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2).

Alleluia! Christ is risen. (Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!) Brothers and sisters, it’s time to walk, step out on the Emmaus road. The path from self-important ignorance to humble wisdom is a quiet and gentle process of transformation that begins on the road with Jesus, in the midst of our life’s journey. God is with us –God is with you.

On the Emmaus road, we learn how much we didn’t know about God. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have let Jesus walk right on by without acknowledging him, or how often you pretended you didn’t know him. Jesus is ready to walk with you now. Let your heavy heart be filled with Easter Joy and your cup filled to overflowing.