This sermon was written by Rev. KJ Norris for Kerr Presbyterian Church on Sunday, April 26, 2020 based on Luke 24.
Let us pray…
Today in our Scripture reading we find a story that sounds absurd and impossible. Well, at least it seems absurd and impossible until we realize that we’ve lived this journey of life ourselves.
Two friends are walking down the street known as the Emmaus Road. As they walk together they talk. And it’s not a happy conversation about fun memories. They aren’t laughing and joking as they walk. They aren’t skipping together and singing a song or sharing a hope for tomorrow.
No, these friends are sad. As they walk along they speak of shattered hopes and dreams unfulfilled.
Perhaps you can relate.
Maybe you worked really hard with your softball team. You did everything your coach asked you to do. You ran the extra laps and stayed for batting practice after hours. You really thought this was the year for the playoffs. But your hopes were dashed. The season ended too soon. And yes, your a good sport about it on the field. But now your walking home with a best friend, talking about shattered hopes.
Or maybe you’re a senior this year. You worked so hard the last couple of years. And this year was supposed to be the one where all that work paid off. This year you were suppose to star in the musical. And wear the prom crown. And walk down the aisle at graduation with your whole family embarrassing you, making too much noise to be appropriate. But now instead you take a walk in the neighborhood while wearing a mask and staying more than 6 feet away from your friend as you share about shattered hopes.
Or maybe your great disappointment came a little later in life. You met the girl of your dreams. Beautiful, funny, smart, compassionate. You knew she was the one. You even went out and bought a ring. But for whatever reason it wasn’t meant to be. You think back sometimes on that night, walking home from the bar with your buddy long ago. Telling the story of what could have been. Shattered hopes.
We don’t get very far in this life without walking our own Emmaus Road. It’s a road we don’t really want to be on at all. We wouldn’t have chosen this path for ourselves. We want to be somewhere else. We want to walk a different path. We want to be anywhere but here, but this is simply where life has us.
It’s like Frodo walking along the path with Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. He turns to his friend and mentor and says, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
We all walk our Emmaus Road sometime. We all feel like Frodo. We all wish for a different path, a different journey, a different life, perhaps.
And today in our Scripture, two friends are on their Emmaus Road. They walk together under a cloud of sorrow, wishing they weren’t walking this path at all.
Suddenly a stranger walking the same path comes and joins them. He listens to their story. He sees their sorrow. He understands their pain.
But he does something more. He slowly, as they walk together, begins to give them hope–Not in a superficial way. Not in a way that simply placates their concerns. But real hope.
Hope rooted not in the absence of pain but in the understanding that even suffering can bring strength. Paul says it this way in Romans: we know “that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
This one who is walking with them begins to open up the Scriptures to them. He teaches them from the Old Testament about who Jesus is and why Jesus suffered and died. He helps them to see that even in this moment—in this moment right after seeing Jesus hung on the cross—that in this moment all hope is not lost.
Yes, it looks to these friends walking down the Emmaus Road like all hope is gone. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They believed he had come to restore all things. They believed his words of truth and his deeds of power, but watching him hang there on the cross, stripped naked, grasping for breath, struggling in weakness. Clearly he wasn’t the one they thought he was. How could any good come from this?
All hope was lost. All dreams were shattered. It seemed even as if God had abandoned them. But this stranger somehow tells a different story. He somehow sees their pain and knows that it is true and yet still finds hope.
And while we can understand their sorrow and their longing; while we, too, may have walked this Emmaus Road, this path of despair; while we may relate to hopes unfulfilled, the part that seems absurd and impossible in this story is the little secrete the Gospel writer Luke tells us.
The friends think this is a stranger coming and walking beside them, but Luke tells us a different story. Luke let’s us in early on the joke. This is no stranger. It is Jesus himself, raised from the dead. The One who is Restoration. The One who is Redemption. The One who is Resurrection. The One who is the Way, Truth, and Life. Jesus is the stranger.
It’s completely absurd. It’s as if your Softball Coach came and joined you for the walk home but you didn’t recognize them. And yes, they gave you hope for the next season. And told you what a fantastic job you did and that you had so much to be proud of. And you start to feel a little more hopeful, but you don’t know that the person talking to you is the one who is the one who coached you all season. Is the one you worked all season with. It’s absurd.
Or maybe you are walking that weird social distance walk with your friend and your Principal or favorite teacher starts walking along the opposite sidewalk and tells you about alternative prom and reminds you that he is so proud of the person you have become. But you don’t recognize him. It’s absurd.
Or really, it’s more like the woman of your dreams. You are walking home with your buddy, telling him how much you will miss her. Explaining how much you love her. Explaining that she taught you what it is to love. What it is to hope. What it is dream. And here she is right in front of you and you can’t see her. You don’t even know the one you love. It’s absurd.
This is Jesus. Their coach, their teacher, their friend, their mentor, the one who taught them what love is. How can they not recognize him? How do they not know? It’s absurd.
And Jesus is inspiring them with hope. Real hope. Not fake hope. Not hope that pretends suffering is not real. But genuine belief that there is something greater at work than what the eye can see. It is only Jesus who inspires this kind of hope. How can they not recognize him? How do they not know?
There is a beautiful poem written by Mary Stevenson called “Footprints.” You’ve heard it before. In it a person has a dream one night that they are walking along the beach with the Lord, looking back over their life. The life appears as footprints in the sand and sometimes there is one path of prints and sometimes two. It seems that in the hardest moments of life—the lowest and saddest times—there is only one set of prints and the person assumes what we all assume at some point in our lives; they think that in the worst moments, in the biggest trials, God abandons them.
I get why they feel that way. In our moments of despair and sorrow. In the times when there are no answers for why something terrible is happening. In the global pandemics and great recessions and cancer diagnoses and tragic accidents we often feel so alone. We feel hopeless. We question everything. We wonder if even God has abandoned us.
But as God walks with the person and looks back on the footprints with them, God explains that no, despite the very real pain and sorrow and feelings of loneliness, God did not leave their side. Instead, in those moments God was carrying the person.
We often cannot feel God’s presence when we walk down the Emmaus Road. When we are on a path that we do not want to be on. When school is canceled. When we are told we cannot open our own businesses. When we are out of work. When our family members are ill. When we are grieving the loss of one we loved. When we are in the greatest moments of trial we may think that even God has abandoned us.
It seems absurd and impossible, but as two friends walked the Emmaus Road, Jesus himself walked along beside them. And they didn’t know it.
Friends, if you are feeling alone today. If you are feeling abandoned. Or hopeless. Or angry. Or sad that you are walking a path you do not want to be on, know that you are not the first to walk this journey. You are not even the first person of faith to walk this journey.
Sometimes I think that we who have been walking in faith for a while get the funny idea in our heads that we should never despair. That we should never feel sorrow. Or loneliness.
But these were disciples walking this journey. They were people of great faith and still they struggled. It’s okay to struggle.
But it is also okay to find a friend to walk alongside and share your story. And as you walk along, know that Jesus walks with you. And as you walk, I want to encourage you to open your Bibles and grow in faith for the one who is true hope often speaks through the words on the page.
You are not alone in this.
I’ll close today by going back to the much beloved children’s tale of old. When Frodo confides in his friend and mentor Gandalf, when he expresses that he is on a journey he does not want to be on by saying, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf replies with deep wisdom, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Friends, we may not be able to change the times in which we are living, but this week let us consider what will are called to do with the time we have been given. Know that you are not alone in the struggle and walk on.