Sunday, April 26, 2020 “When Jesus Vanishes”
“Click” the WATCH icon to join us for Worship Online with Pastor Erik, Sunday, April 26, 2020, “When Jesus Vanishes.”
CALL TO WORSHIP: The Lynch Family
Mike, Maija, Madelyn
Walk to Emmaus Luke 24:13-35
Sermon April 26, 2020
I was on my way to my summer job when the tire went flat on the car. My co-worker and I were several miles out of town on a dirt road. At the time, I had never heard of triple A roadside assistance and I’m not sure if they would have served that location anyway. It was the kind of road where you rarely saw another car. Neither of us had much experience changing tires, but we thought we would try and figure it out. We went fishing around for tools and the spare. We found some, but the jack didn’t seem to work very well, and the wrench wasn’t long enough to get much leverage. This was going to be a lot harder than we thought.
Just then we heard a vehicle approaching. As it got closer to us the truck began to slow down. A man rolled down the window and said, “You boys need some help?” We said, “sure,” and explained how our tools didn’t seem to be working very well. “No problem,” he said. “I got a good jack and a wrench in the back of my pick up.” It didn’t take long and he had our car up and was showing us how to get our spare on in no time. He was soon packing up his equipment and driving away. I think we said thank you. I’m pretty sure we did. But he drove off so quickly I can’t remember exactly. I certainly didn’t get his name or number, and I never saw him again. It was almost as if our roadside angel had just vanished.
Have you ever had someone help you out of the blue, and then left before you could give them a proper thank you? Have you ever had an encounter where you experienced some unexpected kindness, but never did find out who the person really was? Have you ever had a spontaneous conversation with someone and just when you were started to get to know them, they had to suddenly leave and you never saw them again?
This is the sort of encounter that two disciples seemed to have had with Jesus, as they meet him on the road to Emmaus after he has been raised from the dead. They were talking with each other about the news from the last week—how Jesus had been given a hero’s welcome into the city, then was arrested and crucified. Along the way, the Bible says that Jesus came and joined them, but they didn’t recognize him at first. The three continued on their way and they began having a really in-depth conversation. But it isn’t until they stop for dinner and Jesus breaks the bread in front of them that they finally recognize who he is. Then the Bible says, “he vanished from their sight.”
What?!? The two disciples have his amazing conversation with Jesus, they finally see him for whom he really is, and then he is just gone?!? This walk to Emmaus story has long been one of my favorites about the resurrection, but this part of the encounter with Jesus has always bothered me. It seems strange that Jesus would just suddenly disappear at this moment, when the disciples are finally discovering who he is. He had come out of the blue to help interpret and teach them the Scriptures. They had learned from him in that short time and they had grown into a new awareness about what God was doing through Jesus, and then he is gone. They didn’t even get to say thank you. They didn’t even get to say good bye.
It seems odd to me that Jesus leaves so quickly. It seems strange that Jesus wouldn’t hang out longer to comfort them and explain more to them about how he was still alive. Like I said, this part of the story has always bothered me a bit, and yet at the same time it is one of the parts of the story that most resonates with me because I think this is how it often is with faith. There are times when our hearts burn within us and we feel that the presence of Christ is near. It feels like God is close and real. But those times don’t always seem to last very long. They can be fleeting. They can be like glimpses and then God seems to vanish, leaving us to wonder, where did God go?
This last year I was so excited that we had finally finished our building project at Holy Trinity. After years of saving money, of doing capital campaigns, of making plans, then changing plans and then changing plans again, we had finally made a plan that worked for this time in the life of the congregation. We had an Open House back in November where we had our first big dinner in the new Fellowship Hall. It was a festive night. We were excited for all ways we could begin to put this space to use! It seemed like God was really present that night. The Spirit had guided the congregation to this point and so many had given generously. I was looking forward to the ways we could do ministry more effectively, with better facilities.
That ministry began to happen as we had a series of firsts in our new space: our first Monday night meal for those in need, our first Bible study, our first youth event, our first reception after a memorial service—God indeed seemed to be present and using these facilities, just as we had hoped. Then, after our second Lenten soup supper, we had to close the buildings. Because of the danger of COVID-19 and how it could spread in large groups, we were no longer meeting together. No more soup suppers this year. A potluck, planned for after the congregational meeting was cancelled. A 60th anniversary event was cancelled. No more Bible study or Adult forums in the new fireside room. Suddenly one of the signs that God had been so active and alive in our congregation this year gave me the opposite feeling. Without the spaces that often helped us to feel closer to God, God seemed farther away.
The week after we had to cancel church services, one of our members shared with me how they had felt a little abandoned. At a time when they felt like they really belonged to the church community, suddenly it was closed. I can understand why they might have felt this way. When life quickly changes and we are forced out of our normal routines into a difficult situation it can feel like Jesus has left us wondering where we should look for God.
Another odd thing about the walk to Emmaus story, however, is that even though Jesus vanishes just as soon as the disciples recognize him, they don’t seem to feel abandoned. Actually, it seems to be the opposite. They seem so excited to have seen Jesus, they want to go and tell the other disciples. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed!”
It was true that Jesus had vanished from their midst, but that doesn’t lead the disciples to sorrow. Instead, they seemed filled with joy that they had seen him alive again. To get at why they were excited, as opposed to disappointed, it could help to think about two different concepts of time. In his podcast this last week, former pastor and now author, Rob Bell, was talking about the pandemic and how the shutdown might cause us to think about our perceptions of time. He explained how in the ancient world and among tribal cultures, people had a more seasonal concept of time. Summer and Fall gave way to Winter, but Winter also gave way to Spring. Planting and harvest gave way to dormant seeds, but planting time would come again. Life was more of a cycle, where death and darkness would come, but so would new birth and light.
Bell says that the modern way of thinking about time, however, became more linear. With ideas like evolution and progress, clocks and calendars, the thought was more that humans could control the direction of where time was headed and that things would get better and better. This modern concept of time has its good qualities. It has led to many advances in science and technology that have helped the human race.
But it also has its shortcomings, like when we are hit with a crisis, like the pandemic and realize things don’t always just get better. At moments like this, it might be helpful to think again of the rhythms of seasonal time. Rather than thinking we can just immediately fight our way out, we may have to be more patient and live through the winter of these days. The good news is, though, we can trust the Spring will come again.
Perhaps this is what the disciples were feeling when they saw Jesus alive again. They had thought things were getting better with Jesus. They were hoping he would make things better. Then he had been crucified and time seemed to stand still. All the progress they thought was happening or was going to happen, just stopped. The direction they thought things were going for them suddenly came to a halt. So, you can understand why they were excited when they were convinced that Jesus was really alive again—that Jesus was really with them when he broke the bread in their midst. Because even though he didn’t stay with them long, they knew it wasn’t the end of the story. Even though they had lived through a season of darkness and death, they now knew there was still the hope of a season of new life. Even though Jesus had left once more, they now trusted they would see him again and his Spirit would remain with them throughout any season they might face.
It was this Spirit which caused them to be excited. It was this Spirit which moved them to go back right away and find the other disciples to tell them what had happened—to share the good news that Jesus was alive again. You see, they learned from Jesus on the road that morning. They learned how to interpret Scriptures and to see God’s word in the new light of the work of Christ on the cross. They had new insight and they wanted to share it.
I may not have ever gotten the name of the roadside angel who helped change our tire that day, but I did learn a few new insights that I knew I could share someday. I did learn about how the tools worked for changing a spare tire. I also learned how a small act of kindness can be really helpful. Nine years later I remembered that spirit of kindness as I was walking back to a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. On the side of the street was a young woman wrestling with a jack as she was trying to change a flat tire. When I saw her, I knew I could offer some assistance, since I had been through that predicament myself. I asked if I could help and she accepted. I looked at what tools she had and together we managed to get the spare on fairly quickly so she could be on her way. I even shared advice I had been given before about spares. Don’t drive too fast on the freeway and get to a car shop as soon as you can.
Jesus shared the good news with those two disciples on the road to Emmaus that day so long ago. He shared with them that God’s kindness had overcome God’s judgment. God’s promise of resurrection had overcome the grave. This good news has been shared with us down through the ages and reminds us that the Spirit of Christ is alive in us. The Spirit of Christ abides in us through every season and will carry us through until we experience new life once again.
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
OFFERING TESTIMONY: Terri Kelly and Elsa Fowler
Sewing Masks to Save Lives
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
Christ is risen, just as he said.
Go in peace. Share the good news. Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia!
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