Emmaus Road

“Emmaus Road”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 26, 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:1-35

 

A few years ago, I made plans for a clergy retreat at Virginia Beach with my friend, Sarah Nave. The idea was to spend time together, take long walks, do a little stargazing, and discuss Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It just so happened one of Sarah’s parishioners owned a condo just across from the beach and she had offered it to us for the weekend.

 

By early Friday afternoon, Sarah and I arrived, got settled, in and then sat down to chat. I mentioned that Barbara Brown Taylor’s book had made the cover of Christian Century. Sarah responded that it had also made the cover of Time magazine, and then handed me her copy. A little later, we heard someone making noises outside the condo. Honestly, we did not think much of it UNTIL we realized we had no electricity. We went to the office to find out what the problem was, and the manager made a call, only to return with these words, “Well, it appears the electric bill has not been paid.” Immediately Sarah called her friend, who was mortified. After a couple more phone calls it was discovered that the bill had not been received and the person who took care of such details was traveling in West Virginia. In other words, with the electricity being disconnected on a Friday afternoon, the problem would not be resolved during our little retreat. Walking back toward the condo, determined to enjoy our time together—with or without electricity—we could not help but laugh when we realized the irony of our situation: What a perfect opportunity to “learn to walk in the dark.”

 

One of the main themes of Taylors’ book is how we tend to believe good things happen in the light but not in the darkness. She writes,

 

Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me—either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

 

My favorite part of the book is when Taylor goes one night with her husband, Ed, and their dog, Dancer, out on a high hill on their farm in north Georgia to watch the moon rise. They find a good place and sit and wait and watch. “How long has it been since we’ve done this?” her husband asks. “Twenty years,” Barbara responds. “Why is that?” he says. The answer makes her so sad she cannot say it out loud: “We have been too busy—for twenty years.” The remainder of the book is a retelling of other experiences Taylor has—while exploring a spirituality of the nighttime—while learning to look for God in the darkness.

 

The disciples spend some unanticipated time in the darkness on Easter evening as they travel on the Emmaus Road. They have put all their hopes and dreams into Jesus, but he has gotten himself killed. It is a dark time. And just when they are getting used to the idea that he is dead, the women have come to tell them that the tomb is empty, and angels have proclaimed Jesus is alive. What are they to make of it all? This is what two of his followers are discussing on their journey. Then Jesus, whom they are kept from recognizing, approaches, and asks what they are talking about. He listens intently as they catch him up to speed. Then he becomes their teacher as he interprets Scripture in a new way—as he interprets Scripture in light of himself.

 

Nearing the village, Jesus starts to walk on ahead, but they urge him to stay with them. Jesus, always gracious, accepts their hospitality. And it is there at their table that Jesus becomes the host, and it is there that they recognize him when he breaks bread. Immediately he vanishes and they race back to Jerusalem only to find the Eleven already saying, “It’s true! The Lord is risen!” To which they seem to confirm, “He is risen indeed!”

 

Lately, I daresay many of us have felt alone on Emmaus Road. During this pandemic, we have had to learn to navigate a darkness that has swept in to take over our lives. Within the darkness, we have wrestled with worry and doubt and we have questions: “Where is God in the midst of all of this? Who are we without our friends, co-workers, faith community? What do we do next? When will things return to normal? Who are the authority figures who have the people’s best interests at heart? Who can we believe? Who do we trust?” We yearn for answers. We want a foolproof map to guide us to our destination by the shortest possible route—out of the darkness and into the light!

 

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has brought sickness, death, and catastrophe beyond any of our life experiences. Yet might it also be true that, if we are open to the idea, it may bring us important lessons to carry into the future, into the light, to make us better people, better citizens, better Christians? Might the darkness actually have something to teach us? In a recent Facebook post, Laura Kelly Fannuci provides these words of wisdom:

 

When this is over,
may we never again take for granted;
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store,
Conversations with neighbors,
A crowded theater, Friday night out,
The taste of communion, A routine checkup,
The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend,
The stadium roaring, Each deep breath! A boring Tuesday. Life itself.

When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be,
we were called to be,
we hope to be,
and may we stay that way—better for each other because of the worst.

 

For two of Jesus’ believers, the Road to Emmaus is littered with broken dreams UNTIL Christ shows up. Darkness and hopelessness lose their power when Christ walks with them and talks with them and interprets Scripture for them. Then, at the Table, like he is prone to do, Jesus reveals himself as the Risen Lord. Still today, Jesus comes. He comes to show himself to us and to interpret our life in light of his own. In daylight or darkness, hope is ours because Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

*Cover Art “Road to Emmaus” by RaRa Schlitt, used by permission.

Peace Be with You

“Peace Be with You”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 19, 2020

2nd Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

 

The Easter cry is not for Resurrection Sunday alone. The days between Easter and Pentecost invite us to focus on the resurrection and all that God accomplishes through Christ’s re-birth. But when we are sequestered in our homes with our doors safely shut, does it feel like anything extraordinary has happened? We are facing a time in the history of the world that we have never seen. Instead of gathering in our sanctuary to pray, to sing, to worship, to give thanks—we gather virtually by way of Facebook Live. Perhaps singing hallelujah is a little more difficult this week. Maybe our nerves are growing thin because of financial worries or because of becoming a homeschool teacher—overnight. Perhaps we miss doing simple things like going to the grocery store or hair salon or taking a much-needed vacation. If any of this speaks to your experience, the story of Thomas may be just the medicine the doctor ordered.

 

Jesus’ followers are gathered behind locked doors. No wonder. There is real danger out there. Those who killed Jesus may want to finish the job by eliminating his disciples or, at the very least, haul them in for questioning over the sudden disappearance of Jesus’ body. Yes, there is real danger out there and there is good reason to lock the doors. But locked doors or not, Jesus appears, and twice he says, “Peace be with you.” Thomas is absent and when the disciples tell him they have seen the Lord, he refuses to believe. But is it any wonder? I mean, in the gospel accounts, there is not one record of anyone seeing Jesus and responding with, “I knew you would be back! What took you so long?” No one anticipates Jesus’ return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.[i]

 

A week goes by before Jesus again appears behind closed doors, but this time Thomas is with the other disciples. We might expect Jesus to scold him for his lack of faith. But instead, Jesus offers peace, “Peace be with you,” and again Jesus offers what is most needed—himself.

 

The peace of Christ—how we long for it in our lives—especially when we are reeling from the effects of a global pandemic. But let’s be honest. When was the last time we felt at peace? When was the last time we slept serenely through the night without waking up to some thought of the safety of our friends, family, or neighbors? When have we passed a day without glancing at the news with dread in our hearts? How then, can we be at peace? It might help us to consider this: peace is not just a lack of conflict or a lack of trouble. True peace is built on trust in something (Someone) greater than ourselves. True peace is a gift from Christ our Savior, and he is eager to offer it—when our faith is strong and when our faith is weak.

 

The following poem offers an interesting perspective for us today. Written by Judyth Hill, it is entitled, “Wage Peace.”

 

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if [peace] has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

 

When the disciples see Jesus alive, they rejoice, they celebrate. Wonder of wonders, God is active in the world in ways they never imagined. Now Jesus is back—just as he promised. Now he stands before them and reaches out his heart and hands to offer peace—as a gift to the disciples—as a gift to us. May Christ’s peace be ours—now and forevermore. Amen.

 

 

*Cover Art “The Touching of Thomas” via monasteryicons.com

 

[i] David Lose wwww.workingpreacher.org.

The Last Word

The Last Word

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! As Christians, this is our best day—our day of days. As one preacher put it, “Being a Christian at Easter is better than being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day; better than being a child on Christmas morning! If Easter doesn’t ring your bell, your clapper must be stuck! This is the day that we, as God’s people, get to sit on cloud nine and dangle our toes in star dust.”[i]

 

This Resurrection morn, we pause to reflect on the incredible work God has done. The tomb is empty; death has been defeated. Our hearts are filled with joy because today we are invited to see the world through new eyes, through new lenses, if you will. So, let’s put on our Easter glasses to consider a different perspective about who we are, and whose we are. Rest assured, perspective—it matters!

 

There’s an old story about a little boy and girl who happened to be brother and sister. Their mother was in a department store and needed to pick up one or two more items so she took them to the soda fountain for an ice cream cone, hoping that might keep them busy for a few minutes. She left them at that end of the store, happily licking on their cones, and told them to stay there until she returned. Well, there was an elevator right beside the soda fountain and the children simply could not resist the temptation to get on it. So, with ice cream cones in hand, off they went. They were having such fun, but the little boy’s ice cream was melting faster than he could eat it. Even though he kept licking it with all his might, the sweet treat kept dripping down the cone and onto his hand. Finally, when the elevator stopped, a woman got on who was wearing a lovely, full-length fur coat. When the elevator began moving again, the little fellow began to gently wipe the melting ice cream on her coat. Horrified, his little sister whispered, “Be careful, Joey; you’ll get fur on your ice cream.” Now that’s a different perspective—a different lens through which to view the world.

 

The first Easter sermon was proclaimed by women, who obeyed Jesus’ command to “go and tell.” We are here today because somewhere along the way, we, too, have heard their message—the message that, long ago, they saw the risen Lord. But, let’s be honest. To believe the Easter message is challenging. To do so, we must accept that God lives and gives us life. But more than that, we have to believe that God broke God’s own law of nature and raised Jesus from the dead. We have to believe that something so extraordinary happened that morning, it continues to have power to transform us mind, body, and soul.[ii] The Christmas story may be a little easier to digest—a baby born in a lowly manger—with a choir of angels singing praises. Jesus’ life and ministry may be more palatable, after all, we would expect God’s Son to heal and love people, right? But resurrection? Could God have had the last word in all things, raising Jesus from the dead, thereby pronouncing all things possible, now and forevermore?

 

“The last word”—what an interesting phrase.[iii] What does it mean? To have the last word is to make the last statement in a discussion or argument, as in “Jimmy can’t stand to lose an argument. He always has to have the last word.”  To have the last word also refers to making the final decision about something as in “The head chef has the final word on what’s being served in the restaurant.”

 

If God has the last word—if the resurrection story is true, then we still have a mountain of questions. We look around at the world and how much suffering is going on—physically—mentally—and spiritually—and Jesus seems nowhere near. I mean, where is Jesus when people are dying by the thousands? Where is Jesus when governments are using a disaster to further their own agendas? Where is Jesus when children are going hungry? Where is Jesus when the most dangerous place for a woman may be in her own home? Where is Jesus when men and women and children are fearing for their future? Where is Jesus?

 

Could it be that Easter glasses are in order? With a different perspective, we might see Jesus in the face of people suffering from COVID-19. We might see that it is by the power of Christ’s own Spirit that people rush toward danger for love of neighbor. With Easter glasses, we might see Jesus in the face of doctors, nurses, and scientists. Jesus wipes the fevered brow and provides tender care. Jesus brings in truckloads of medical equipment and food supplies. Jesus is the cashier at the store and the teller at the bank. And, whenever possible, Jesus chooses to stay home when doing so is the quickest way to slow down a killer pandemic.

 

Jesus is not now, nor has he ever been, constrained to a temple or a church. Jesus carries on God’s love and raises the cup of salvation from sea to shining sea—for everyone to drink. Set free, he reigns in our hearts and minds and because of his love—we, too, are set free. No doubt, there are days that we look at the world and feel discouraged—especially when so much darkness and evil seem to have the last word. But when that happens, it behooves us to put on our Easter glasses for a second look, because through Christ, God has the last word. No more does violence have the last word for Christ is risen. No more does greed have the last word for Christ is risen. No more does death have the last word, for Christ is risen. Let us put on our Easter glasses and celebrate. For Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!  Alleluia! Amen!

[i] Rev. Vic Pentz

[ii] Feasting on the Word, Martin B. Copenhaver, 370

[iii] My thinking on “the last word” was influenced by a prayer written by Brian McLauren for pastors who have the daunting task of preaching on Easter.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription.

Nature Series: The Message of Creation

Nature Series: The Message of Creation

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

The liturgical calendar tells us that today is Palm Sunday—the beginning of Holy Week. Through the eyes of Luke, we see Jesus entering the city riding on a donkey. It seems such a paradox—the King of kings riding on a humble donkey instead of a mighty steed. No doubt Jesus’ simple procession into Jerusalem is anything but simple. Instead, his act lights a patriotic spark in the souls of the people who hear echoes of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice, greatly O daughter, Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter, Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; humble and riding on a donkey…” The people yearn for a king—but not one like Jesus. They want a warrior king—but Jesus has other plans—bigger plans—holy plans.

 

 

When Jesus approaches the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude begins to praise God, singing and shouting for joy: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” Some of the Pharisees are so upset by the uproar, they tell Jesus to make the people quieten down. Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 

 

For Jesus, this day of joy carries bits of sorrow because he knows that the joyous crowd will soon become an angry mob. The cloaks and palms will become a crown of thorns. The donkey that bears Jesus into the city will become a cross that he, himself, will bear. And words of praise will be replaced with shouts of “Crucify him!”

 

 

As modern-day Christians, we are challenged to tell the old story of God’s love in new and inviting ways. If we take the challenge seriously—especially in times like these—we will welcome praise as our calling card. For, you see, praise is the cure for discouragement and depression and despair. Praise is the antidote for what ails us. And wonder of wonders, when all the earth glorifies God, we may join the celebration so that all people and every creature contributes its own distinct voice; and the seas and rivers, meadows and hills add their response, too.

 

 

Over the past six weeks we have tried to listen to what God—who created all that lives and moves and breathes—has to say to us through water, mountains, trees, birds, and animals. An ancient Celtic writing echoes the grandeur of our Creator God:

 

 

I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,

I am the wave on the ocean,

I am the murmur of leaves rustling,

I am the rays of the sun,

I am the beam of the moon and stars,

I am the power of trees growing,

I am the bud breaking into blossom,

I am the movement of the salmon swimming,

I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,

I am the speed of the stag running,

I am the strength of the ox pulling the plough,

I am the size of the mighty oak,

And I am the thoughts of all people,

Who praise my beauty and grace.[i]

 

 

In the Genesis account of creation, repeatedly, God creates, and repeatedly, God “sees that it is good.” Still to this day, God’s wonders and God’s presence rain down blessings. When we are greeted by the morning sun, it is God’s gift. When our heart is moved by the song of the mockingbird, our Creator has spoken. On a walk by the waterside, a soft breeze is like the breath of the Holy Spirit. The wonder of an approaching thunderstorm reminds us of God’s power.  A bike ride along a path of fragrant honeysuckles, suggests the sweetness of Jesus. Yet, day after day, we are so busy looking down, so busy worrying about our little lives that the vastness of God sweeps right past us. Might it be that even during this dreadful pandemic, there is a blessing—a blessing of slowing down to allow ourselves and God’s creation a little time to heal?

 

 

The earth is God’s and we are stewards of it. It would behoove us to embrace the beauty of creation and to preserve it for those who come after us for as the Native American Proverb reminds us, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

 

 

Creation is the gift of our Creator, who is everywhere present, loving, and gracious. God loves us so much he enters the world and becomes one of us. Emmanuel, God-with-us, enters this week we call holy riding on a donkey. With all the courage he can muster, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, knowing where it will end. Ultimately, in his dying and rising again, Christ assures us that one day, he will return to make all things new. But until then, we are given the responsibility and the privilege of caring for the earth. If we look around us, we know we could do better. We know there is something wrong when we are drowning in plastic, when water creatures are dying because of oil spills, when people struggle to breathe because of pollution. Perhaps it is time to take the following prayer of Miriam Therese Winter and make it our own:

 

 

Creator of the earth, and of all earth’s children, creator of soil and earth and sky and the tapestries of stars, we turn to you for guidance as we look on our mutilated planet, and pray it is not too late for us to rescue our wounded world. We have been so careless. We have failed to nurture the fragile life you entrusted to our keeping. We beg you for forgiveness and we ask you to begin again. Be with us in our commitment to Earth. Let all the Earth say: Amen.

 

 

While the task may seem overwhelming, one by one we can join hands around the globe and do our part so that when Christ returns in all his glory, he may find us faithful stewards of the world he came to save. Let it be so. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[i] The Black Book of Camarthan; quoted in Celtic Fire; edited by Robert Van de Weyer.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription