Third Sunday of Easter
April 27, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
There are a great many things that come to mind when you begin to consider this pandemic. The medical worry is enormous. The financial impact on the millions who are out of work is huge. But the thing that comes to my mind daily is the uncertainty of all of this. Planning for anything in the future is put on hold.
I was speaking to one of our folks who a few months ago had a wonderful schedule put together for their daughter and her wedding. Bridal shower, rehearsal dinner, wedding – all of this was to be this spring. But that has changed. They moved things to the summer. We’ll see. Another of our folks had to plan a funeral for their father. But the only thing that could happen was a small graveside. 6 family members, 4 folks from the mortuary, live-streaming to all who would like to participate. Sometime later the celebration of life will be held with more than those 6. When? They can’t say right now.
What we have now are contracts that have to include the words, “Maybe”, “Perhaps”, or, “We’ll See”. In the middle of the week when I was hearing that some things were going to open up in our state I began to think that worship together would also begin. But almost immediately that certainty was tempered by uncertainty. Maybe in a month. Maybe.
It is tough to live with uncertainty. We want to circle a date, mark it in ink, have a guarantee – but right now we can’t do that.
We have uncertainty now. The account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus was filled with uncertainty then. When we run into phrases by the two disciples as they discuss Jesus like, “We thought”, “We hoped”, or “We heard”, their life had become uncertain.
Let’s set the scene of this walk. It is Easter afternoon, 4 o’clock or so, and two guys are heading from Jerusalem to Emmaus and the stranger walking with them was Jesus. The walk is about 6 or 7 miles. The text tells us the name of one of the guys – Cleopas (Luke 24:18). A couple of commentaries mention that the early church says that this is Clopas (the Hebrew name of the Greek Cleopas). That means that this is Joseph’s (the earthly father of Jesus) brother. This is Jesus’ uncle. The early church said the second guy walking was Simeon, the son of Clopas, who became the head of the church in Jerusalem around 70 AD. These two would have known Jesus, except as the text tells us, “But they were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:16) 3 men on the road to Emmaus and a whole lot of uncertainty joined them.
These two guys were talking to Jesus and it seems to them that this stranger didn’t have a clue about the things that had happened in Jerusalem over the past few days. Then they get into why they were so troubled. Their certainty had become uncertain. Their confidence had burst. They thought they had answers, but now they only had questions. As they began speaking about Jesus they said, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us, they went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body.” (Luke 24:21-23a) “We thought”, “we hoped”, “we heard” and every certainty, became like a wish that had no substance.
Do you know why they went from such hopes to such misery? The crucifixion. Remember our reading tells us, “They stood still, their faces were downcast.” They had spoken about Jesus with glowing hopes, “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.” (Luke 24:19-20) Death!! Crucifixion!! The certainty of who Jesus was and what He was going to do became uncertain to them because of the crucifixion.
After being a great listener to these two, Jesus becomes an informed speaker. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27)
I love it when someone has something to say and they say it with conviction. They don’t leave you guessing. You don’t wonder where they stand. They are certain and sure. Jesus was certain and sure when He spoke. After leaving these two, after the meal that they had together in Emmaus, this is the reaction that they remembered, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
It is certain that the Christ had to die for our sins. It is certain that the Christ had to rise from the dead. That is what Jesus spoke about. He spoke about sin and its awful consequence. “Christ HAD to suffer these things.” I wonder what Scripture He used? What Old Testament passage would give them the clarity that they needed to change from being depressed and overwhelmed with grief, to hurrying back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples the joy and happiness that they had experienced? I would have chosen the account of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Verses 4-6)
During these days the very best can be shown in us but also the very worst can be ours. I hear that liquor sales are way up during this last month. Maybe that is the only way to manage stay-at-home directives, huh? This past week, at a stop sign, one of the essential workers driving his essential car, gave me, an essential worker, a one finger salute to start the morning. Patience, kindness, long-suffering? Sometimes the best in us is in short supply. So, what do we do? This is a time of repentance toward the people in our household and even toward our fellow drivers!!
Christians live in certainty – Jesus had to suffer and die to cleanse our soul that is way too dirty. Repent, turn to God, ask for forgiveness – it is given in Jesus!!
Here’s God’s certainty – Jesus had to rise from death. Maybe Jesus shared with those two, another verse from Isaiah 53. Verse 11: “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.” Jesus had to enter His glory, Jesus had to rise from death. He had that certainty of what would happen to Him. When we see His victory we know that He is Lord over all things – including death. We trust in His victory because He promises our victory, our eternity.
I don’t know if I have ever mentioned this on camera (I’ve only been a You Tube celebrity for one month, you know) but I think Jesus was a Lutheran. I say that because of the certainty that you will hear from Him concerning the written Word and the Sacraments. That is what Lutherans are always saying. “Word and Sacraments – this is where God speaks.” Where do you find Jesus? In the written Word. Those two Emmaus disciples – Clopas and Simeon, remarked, “He opened the Scriptures to us.” And now, at the meal, without it being the Sacrament Jesus makes it sound sacramental. “When he was at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30-31)
Lutherans, and I hope every follower of Jesus, are certain that God speaks in His Word – the Scriptures. The Word reveals His saving act by the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we take His meal, Holy Communion, we see Him – body and blood given for the forgiveness of our sins. Our hearts burn within us when we hear God’s powerful and life-giving Word. Our eyes are opened at the Table. Word and Sacraments are God’s certainty to us.
Janet Heisz, one of our Ascension folks, lives and dies with the Colorado Rockies. Through the years that I’ve known her she has died and come to life many times. Janet was sharing a certain and sure truth with me when, two weeks ago, she ended her e-mail in these words, “The Rockies are still in first place.” Now they haven’t thrown a pitch yet this year, but she is absolutely certain that they are on top. You see, this virus thing may have something good to it after all!! If the Rockies are in first place I sure hope the Dodgers are in last!!
In this time when nothing seems certain there is something certain. Jesus still makes our heart alive by His Word. Read it. Treasure it. Let it sit in your belly and guide your feet. And it is certain that whenever we will eat the Supper of the Lord again our eyes will be opened and we will see Jesus.
I’m certain. Amen.