Sermon April 26, 2020 Luke 24:13ff They Stood Still, Looking Sad Rev. Betsy Hogan
It'd be nice, wouldn't it, if there were the perfect reading for a Sunday like this.
The perfect passage that would somehow encompass this grief we're feeling for our own losses, our friends' losses, our neighbours' losses.
Or the perfect passage that would express the love we're determined to share with each other, and the conviction that there's more in our togetherness than just ourselves. That we're bound together and that matters.
Or the perfect passage that would howl our anger so we'd not be afraid to just cry. That would express our outrage and also the tearing fearsomeness of shocking despicable unfair randomness crashing into ordinary beautiful lives.
I walk around holding all these scripture passages in my head, and all week I kept thinking "there will be focus" and "I will land somewhere" and "it won't just be this sort of chaotic amalgam of bits and pieces of bible verses"...
From Jeremiah: A voice is heard in Ramah: wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel is weeping for her children, and she refuses to be consoled because they are no more...
and from Lamentations:
panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction.
My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people,
My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite,
Until God in heaven looks down and sees.
and from Psalms: How do we sing the Lord's Song in this strange land?
But there was never any focus. And I never landed anywhere. And it's still this sort of chaotic amalgam of bits and pieces. And no perfect passage of scripture, no perfect story out of our ancient collection of wisdom, just the one to be lifted up, to speak into the moment.
So instead I did what I always do, for every Sunday, for the discipline of it, and because I've come to trust and with good reason, that the Holy Spirit is weird and wonderful and somehow moves in all the things – we know not how –
I did what I always do, and I went to the lectionary. To the basic three year cycle of passages that collectively the churches around the world have assigned to particular Sundays – to kind of lay out the whole expanse of our stories and our tradition in a way that gives us a bit of structure, a bit of order.
I went back to the lectionary. Because it would just assign a preaching text for me.
And there... was that story of a couple of the disciples after Easter, walking on the road to Emmaus. And talking.
Just processing. Everything that's happened. In the days they've just had.
Doing that thing we do when we're trying to make sense out of too much. Scattered thoughts and pieces, conversation back and forth. I can totally imagine these two disciples reliving all of it in their talking together along the road – from that first inkling of danger, to the panic in the garden of Gesthemane, to the crucifixion and the scattering and the hiding --
I can totally imagine them saying to each other "this was what really got me" or "this is what I can't stop thinking about". And yes, me too. And also this, when I heard it. Comforting each other back and forth, the two of them as they walk along, but also trying to help each other just process this enormous THING that's been 'the days they just had'.
That's just consumed all their thoughts. Everything.
It actually made me laugh when I looked at this passage from Luke that we heard earlier, when the two of them, the two disciples, are in the middle of their conversation on the road, and suddenly Jesus comes near them – but they don't know who he is, they don't recognize him, they think he's a stranger
-- When he asks them "What are you talking about, these things that have happened this past week? What things?"
Because they look at him exactly how I imagine we'd look at someone right now if they said that to us. Like, seriously? How do you not know what's happened here??! How is this not filling up your whole head??!
I remember going to extract Jack from school at lunchtime on 9/11 – because I needed him on that day to be in my house. And when I got to the school the teacher was completely bewildered as to why I wanted to take him home. And I said to her "planes have been crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon". And she said, "Oh ya. I heard about that."
And it was like "How is that not the only thing you're thinking about?"
The disciples are in that same space. On the road to Emmaus. Looking at Jesus they don't recognize like, how does this person who's been in Jerusalem for the whole past week not know what's happened there? How is that even a thing?
And so they tell him, and they all continue to Emmaus and they invite him to share a meal with them, and of course he DID know what had happened because it turns out he was Jesus, and they finally recognized him when he broke the bread for him at the table....
And 'weren't our hearts strangely warmed' they said to each other afterward, 'when he spoke to us on the road'.
He was with them the whole time. It was in their reaching out to him and talking with him and connecting with him that they did manage to articulate and process all those feelings.
I think that's kind of what we're doing for each other right now. We're not just being a whole pack of disciples walking down the road to Emmaus trying to come to grips with everything from fear to anger to grief... to this onslaught of details and information and hearsay and theorizing... and whole other layers of fear and anger and grief about THAT.
We're also being -- for each other -- the listeners. Letting each other articulate all those feelings, and trying as Jesus did with the disciples to offer comfort. Or at least company. Or even some wisdom.
It's what we're doing on this road to Emmaus where we are. There's all the chaos of all the feelings, and the spirit of Godness walking the road with us, while we listen to each other pouring it all out.
Knowing we're not alone. Grief that's bad enough. Grief because of randomness that's so frightening. Rage that can become a refuge. Though it can also be a response.
My colleague Robyn Brown-Hewitt, who's our chaplain at Dalhousie, she wrote earlier this week "The “Nova Scotia Strong” banners are now waving."
And "Strong," she wrote. "Strong? What does Strong mean?"
She wrote: "I can say strong if strong means that as a whole community we agree to peel back the blinders and take a long hard look at the rot feeding violence in our culture… if strong means a declared intention to eradicate the stench of sexism, chauvinism, racism, injustice, poverty… if strong means armed with compassion and not guns… if strong means continuing to teach my sons that a man’s true strength is revealed in their ability to love with honesty, integrity and gentleness… if strong means we all realize our community is only as strong as its most vulnerable member and we dedicate our energies to the well-being of all."
And end quote. And yes. If that's what strong means, then yes. Let's be Nova Scotia strong.
This beautiful place. With its depth of traditions, but also its legacy of suffering and struggling and pain. "There's some fiddle for ya," is what Emily Tuck said at the end of her solo that became a duet with Natalie McMaster on Friday evening. And how can it be that there's a vigil remembering her, this little girl only 17, and her parents, and nineteen other people and a baby not even born –
In this beautiful place. But if you heard it, then you know -- music like that doesn't happen in a place that doesn't already know pain. It's deep in the bones of this land and the people who live here. And the drums and the fiddles and the pipes.
In this beautiful place. It hurts when its shadows get exposed. It hurts when its hidden violence gets exposed. Every time. And so grief at the losses and heartbreak at the randomness, yes, but also rage at what gets hidden and what's been unleashed and what's been exposed – and that rage isn't just a refuge. It can be a response.
Though yes, even then, at the same time a refuge, from just grief. Because what if you start crying and you can't stop. All these feelings getting brought up, talked about, shared with each other on this road to Emmaus -- all these feelings, they're still pretty mixed up.
But what wasn't mixed up way back then, when it was those two disciples, and what isn't mixed up now on our own walk on the road to Emmaus as Nova Scotians – is that instinct to reach out to each other and take care of each other and lean into each other in the midst of it.
Because the disciples, the gospel says, when the stranger first stopped them, they just stood still and looked sad.
But then they acted instinctively. They made space for this stranger who'd turned up on the road. They didn't turn away from him, they acted instinctively to make space for this other person, to welcome him. This person who seemed to have no idea what everyone's week had been like. Who seemed not to have the first clue what their heads were full of and why.
They acted out their deepest instinct of who they were as people, and they welcomed him. But for real. Not just politely, not pretending, they welcomed him into all the chaos they were in the midst of. For real.
It was letting Godness into where they were. And they didn't even know it until hours later. They were just acting out of instinct.
I think we've been acting out of that same instinct. Weirdly and virtually when we're all separated, but out of that same instinct on this road to Emmaus not to just turn inward but to be real outward. With neighbours and strangers. Howling out loud and honestly -- This hurts. We're shaken. We need each other. We're afraid to start crying because maybe we won't stop. We're so angry. We want to light a candle and tie a ribbon and we don't want to do this alone, we need to be real outward. I think that's been our instinct and I think it's a good one.
Because what we see on the road to Emmaus is that being real outward in the midst of all this... it's how Godness gets let in to where we are. Whether or not we realize it. So we can get through this. So we can be the kind of strong we need to be not just to keep on going, but to make this better. Amen.