Resurrecting Hope Anne R. Atwell May 4, 2014 This morning, we heard one of the very longest Gospel readings of the year. And I can understand why it was so long. Because it is really a great story! There is a lot of depth and meaning that we can take from it. And in this […]
Anne R. Atwell
May 4, 2014
This morning, we heard one of the very longest Gospel readings of the year. And I can understand why it was so long. Because it is really a great story! There is a lot of depth and meaning that we can take from it. And in this story, we hear another narrative of an Easter appearance by Jesus. Leading up to Easter, we hear so much about Jesus and about his ministry. And then after Easter, we hear other stories, mostly about people’s experiences of Jesus’ resurrection and of how they continued to encounter Jesus after his execution.
When we think of the stories that Jesus shared, I would guess that many of us often think of the parables that Jesus told – The parable of the Good Samaritan, The parable of the Prodigal Son, The parable of the Lost Coin. There are so many of these wonderful parables……fictional stories that Jesus told – and he shared them with his followers so that they (and now us) could learn a theological or moral lesson. We learned from these stories that we are to reach out to others and show kindness to all people. We learned that our God will always welcome us even when we have strayed or moved away from goodness. And we learn that when we are lost, God will always search for us and will continue to search for us until we are found.
The contemporary Biblical Scholar John Dominic Crossan has written, not only are there parables which Jesus shared with his followers– but the Gospel writers took that idea of creating parables to teach a lesson – they took that idea from Jesus have included that same style , that same parable format, in their writings. The Gospel writers created parables about Jesus. For example, the factual account of Jesus’ crucifixion – which is most likely historically true and that we heard about on Good Friday, has created various, probably fictional writings on the meaning of his crucifixion – how Jesus’ life and actions can bring meaning to each of us, even after his death. And the Gospel lesson we heard this morning is one such example of a parable, not from Jesus, but about Jesus.
And in this story, this parable, we meet up with two travelers. One is known as Cleopas and the other traveler is unnamed. So, who is this Cleopas person?? He isn’t someone you hear much about in the New Testament or in the Gospel readings. Scholars have identified him as a disciple of Jesus who is mostly like the same person mentioned in the crucifixion narrative taken from John 19:25. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” So it seems that Celopas and Clopas are probably the same person, just different spellings, the difference between Aramaic and Greek names. And we also know from our studies and from other sermons that Rev. Durrell has preached, that when there is an unnamed person in a biblical story, frequently that unnamed person is probably a woman. So it is quite possible that the unnamed traveler with Cleopas is Mrs. Cleopas.
But I like the fact that in this story, one of the travelers is unnamed because it gives each of us the opportunity to put ourselves in that story. We can imagine ourselves walking a road, leaving someplace behind because something really awful happened. Something we didn’t expect. Something that we had hoped for which didn’t occur in the way we had anticipated. I would suspect that many of us have done exactly that. And I have to imagine that is how the two travelers felt that day as they left Jerusalem.
Now, the word “Jerusalem” in the Hebrew language means peace or shalom. I’m sure Jerusalem felt anything but peaceful to the travelers after the upsetting events that had occurred during the past 3 days. And according to this story, they were traveling to Emmaus which translates to “a warm bath” So, quite possibly the travelers were headed to a place that had hot springs available – hot springs that would be used for healing. These two travelers, these two followers of Jesus were traveling from a very “non-peaceful” place, Jerusalem, to a place of warmth and of healing, Emmaus.
While on this journey towards possible healing, the two travelers meet a stranger, someone that they didn’t recognize at all. It’s kind of interesting that Jesus was unrecognizable to them. Did Jesus change form? Were they kept from recognizing him? We don’t really know that. Why didn’t the travelers recognize him? In my research for this message, one Biblical scholar suggested that the two travelers had the sun in their eyes so they couldn’t recognize Jesus. It kind of sounds to me like that scholar is grabbing at straws with that one. But the two travelers were very willing to share their story of hurt and disappointment with someone they thought of as a stranger. They shared their story of expectations that were unfulfilled – expectations that had gone array.
How often have we shared our tale of woe with total strangers? Or how often have we had people that we don’t know, talk with us about the troubles in their lives?? It is actually fairly common to do that. Most people simply want someone to listen, to hear our story.
Think about the journey of Cleopas and the unnamed traveler for a moment. They had put all of their hopes, all of their expectations on Jesus – and they were ultimately disappointed. I think the saddest words in this whole story are, “….we had hoped….” We had hoped that Jesus would be the one to save us from Roman rule. We had hoped he would welcome us and that he would invite us to recognize our sacred value. We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel but he was crucified! Crucified right in front of us! Crucified like a common criminal!! We had hoped…..
Hope. It is really difficult to hope sometimes. It can be really difficult to hope that things will get better. It can be really difficult to hope that we will find the best job for ourselves, or the best partner, or the best cure for what ails us, or that we will find the best place for us to be ourselves. Human hope can be a very fragile thing. When it withers and dies, it can be extremely challenging to bring our hope back to life. But where there is life, there must be hope. And that is what I believe the two travelers were doing that day. They were going to a place that would revive their hope. That would heal them. That would make them feel alive again.
I’ve shared with this congregation a number of times that I grew up in a very small town in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Our family was quite active in our local Presbyterian Church because there really wasn’t much else to do. And in such small towns, church activities are often quite important and they bring family and friends together. It is an outlet, a way of building community with each other. I always enjoyed attending church though the worship services always struck me as kind of dry, kind of dull – and, let’s face it, kind of boring. But, I felt a warmth and a comfort in church that I really didn’t feel anywhere else. I, also, felt at a fairly early age, a call to ordained ministry but I wasn’t very sure what to do with it, though I was quite certain I really didn’t want to work at such a small town church.
So, when I moved to South Florida almost 18 years ago, one of the first things I wanted to do was to find a church that fit me. You know, I thought it would be easy. South Florida is so large compared to my small hometown of 1,500 people! I had hoped that I could move down here and find a church community that would fit – one that would welcome me for all of who I am – one that would recognize my sacred value. I had hoped……
My sister lives in Boca Raton and so I enlisted her help in finding this wonderful church that I had dreamed of. This church that would welcome me and encourage me and celebrate my life. Well, of course, it wasn’t nearly as easy as I had anticipated. Since I grew up in the Presbyterian Church, I tried several churches in the Presbyterian denomination. Well, we found churches in which the average age of the congregants was about 285 with no programming or outreach of any kind. And we found churches which were so highly conservative that we walked out before the worship service really began. I really felt like I was at a loss. What was I going to do?? I had tried several other faith communities but nothing really felt right. I wanted church. I felt called to serve in the church. But I couldn’t find anything. I had hoped that it would be easy to find a church that fit! I had hoped!! But it didn’t happen, at least not for a while.
It was during this time, while I was looking for a place to call my church home that I began to question myself. Was I asking for too much? Is there a place for me to belong as an out lesbian who also identifies as a Christian? Does God really want me in ministry? Does God really love me? Am I worthy? That was really a tough time for me. And in retrospect it was part of my journey, part of my personal Emmaus journey. And like those travelers, I shared my story, my hopes with a few people. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, because at that point, I didn’t have much to lose.
Author and sociologist, Brene Brown, writes, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.” When we give ourselves permission to announce to others or even to ourselves, “I’m hurting” or “I don’t know what to do” or “I had hoped…..” we can be open to the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. When we are vulnerable, a part of us can crack open…. a part of ourselves that allows light and joy and even hope to enter into our lives. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we can see the power and possibilities, new beginnings and new paths. We can experience the power of the resurrection again and again –the power of new life – and we can feel hope in our lives – maybe when we haven’t felt hopeful in a very long time.
In our first reading this morning, we heard from Robert Holden who tells us, “No matter how low, hurt, hopeless…fearful, or how awful you feel, the potential to experience peace and happiness never goes away.” We all have an Emmaus journey, every one of us. If you’re here at Sunshine Cathedral, you have a story to tell of finding this church. If you’re watching us via the Internet, you have a story of how you found a church, even online, that affirms the sacred value of all people. And many of us have several Emmaus journeys. If you identify as lesbian or gay, or if you identify as bisexual or transgendered or if you are questioning, you’ve had an Emmaus journey. If you are a straight ally of the Queer community – you’ve had an Emmaus journey. If you are part of a recovery program or any kind of a self-help program, you’ve had an Emmaus journey. We’ve all had a journey, a journey in which we were vulnerable, and a journey where we had hoped.
Almost 17 years ago, I finally found Sunshine Cathedral. I found a church that would welcome me for all of who I am. And when I came in the doors of Sunshine Cathedral, and when I witnessed the open communion table, I felt myself break open like the bread that is served during the sacred meal. I felt those very vulnerable places in my life fill with joy and welcome. That day, my eyes opened and I recognized the presence of the Spirit moving in my life. I felt transformation and I felt the resurrection of all I had hoped for. It was much, much more than I could have anticipated.
When our hopes are diminished, when it all seems just too difficult, it is very easy to get stuck. It is very easy to become comfortable in our disappointment and complacent in our actions. What we need to remember is that Easter and the resurrection and possibilities for new beginnings, doesn’t always happen quickly. It doesn’t always happen in just 3 days. Sometimes when the stone is blocking our path, we need to sit for a while. We need to wait for a while. We need to allow ourselves to feel a bit broken and vulnerable. But then, we can be reminded of the two travelers who, when they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they ran back to tell their friends the good news! Resurrection can happen! Positive change can happen! Our hopes can be renewed!
It is in these vulnerable moments of allowing ourselves to be broke open that we can experience the resurrection of our buried hopes. And when we allow hope to rise in our lives, the stone sealing our hearts and our dreams can be rolled away to allow in the light of promises and of new beginnings. My friends, the past is indeed the past and the future, our future, has infinite, new possibilities! And so it is! Amen.
We affirm together:
I live in hope
I find hope in life’s difficulties
Where there is life, there is hope
I affirm that hope and new beginnings are always available to me.
And so it is!