A traditional reading during the Easter season is the story of the road to Emmaus found in Luke’s Gospel. This magnificent reading is found in Luke 24:13-49. It is about two people who had put their hopes, dreams, and aspirations into Jesus.
We don’t know exactly what their relationship with Jesus had been, but whatever it was, it’s evident that they felt as if they had lost it all after Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
For a moment, let’s dissect this story just a bit. It was Easter morning and two companions were walking down a road away from Jerusalem toward a town called Emmaus. Scripture says that the two were downtrodden, their faces were downcast, they looked sad, or they were gloomy, depending upon which version of the Bible you read. It’s clear they were having a tough emotional time as they walked.
As they journey toward Emmaus, Jesus comes up and asks them what is going on. Although it is Jesus, they do not recognize him. Why they don’t recognize him is a bit of a mystery. Whatever the reason, they did not know it was him.
As they walk along they tell the stranger, who is actually Jesus, about Jesus. After the two companions stop talking, Jesus teaches them about the scriptures and tells them that the ancient prophets predicted all that had recently happened. Later, when they get near Emmaus, Jesus acts as if he is going to leave the two companions behind and continue on down the road. But the two insist that Jesus stay with them as darkness is approaching. Jesus agrees and it is during the course of a meal, that they suddenly recognize their guest. Jesus then vanishes.
Even though it is late, the two quickly get up and head back to Jerusalem to share their encounter with the risen Lord with the remaining apostles. Upon arriving in the city, they tell the apostles what happened, and as they do so, Jesus appears among them. Despite the fact that Jesus is standing right there, the apostles are filled with fear and doubt.
Jesus then teaches them about the scriptures and even eats some food, a bit of leftover fish. It is here that he tells them to stay put until the Holy Spirit comes upon them. At this point, Jesus once again disappears and the Gospel of Luke nears its end.
This story from Luke’s Gospel is about many things and it is rich with layers of meaning. On the surface, the story is simply about the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that he appeared to his followers and the two companions on the road to Emmaus. It, like the other post resurrection appearances to hundreds and hundreds of people, was recorded and written down so that we too might trust the events of Easter through eye witness testimony.
The story of the walk to Emmaus, however, is also about the fact that God does things in surprising ways and how our expectations can affect our ability to see God acting in our lives. What we expect of God often influences how we see God. But aside from a description of eyewitness testimony. Aside from the fact that the story illustrates how expectations influence what we can see. The story of the walk to Emmaus also has to do with something else.
The story sheds light on what happens whenever we are on our own road to Emmaus. Whenever our hopes and expectations seem for naught. Whenever we are struggling with confusion or pondering questions that don’t seem to have an answer.
And what happens when we are on such a journey is that Jesus shows up.
Just like he showed up on the road to Emmaus as the two dejected companions walked. Jesus shows up whenever we travel a similar road. The good news is that when Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus, his presence was not dependent on the expectations of the two companions. His presence was not dependent on what they were feeling. What they were thinking. What they believed.
Jesus’ presence that day did not depend on the nature of what was going on, the level of faith held by the two, or even on the choices they had made.
And it is the same for you and for me today.
Jesus shows up no matter what and his presence has nothing to do with where we are in our journey in faith or what is in our head. In fact, Jesus shows up even if we could care less about his presence. Even if we believe his presence doesn’t make a difference. Even when we can’t see that he is right there with us.
And finally there is one more thing, I believe, the story invites us to think about.
For those of us who may be in a place of waning faith, of struggling with believing, of wondering, of having lots of questions, I believe the story of the two on the road to Emmaus invites us to ask some questions.
Questions like, “What if it is really so? What if Jesus really did rise from the dead? What if because of that there is an amazing life beyond this one beyond our comprehension that exceeds what we could hope for? What if we can trust the story? What if we can really trust Jesus? What if it is really so?” And if it is so, how might that impact my life today in the face of my current challenges?
Think of what is causing you fear today, ask yourself, what if it is really so that Jesus rose from the dead? What might that have to say to me about my fear? As you look at what is causing you stress at this moment, ask, what if God really has that much power to raise someone from the dead? What does such power have to say to me about what is making me feel out of sorts? As you think about those you have lost in life, ask, what if there really is something amazing beyond this life? What might eternal life have to say to me in my grief? As you think about a big transition you are facing, again ask, what if it really is so. What might Jesus’ resurrection say to me about the transition I am faced with?
The point, if it is so, Jesus’ resurrection has a lot to say to us not just about what happens after this life, but about what is happening to us right now in our daily lives. And the Great news of the Gospel is not, if it is so, but rather, it is so.
It is so! Jesus Christ rose from the dead and because Jesus Christ is Risen we too shall one day rise as He did. And that, my friends, makes all the difference in how we live this short journey we call life right now.
If you were with us last week at Snowmass Chapel you know that we had a special performance immediately after the worship service. One of our young parishioners, Emily Garcia, is home for a brief visit from the school she attends for students with special needs, and she shared a message with us using sign language and set to the incredible song, “This is Me.”* The song’s lyrics are a powerful reminder that every single one of us is EXACTLY who we are meant to be. If you could have all seen Emily up on that chancel last week – oh my stars you’d have been proud. Like, weepy-smiley-jump-to-your-feet proud. When Emily finished, the congregation erupted in a standing ovation. YOU ALL STOOD UP for one of our own like nobody’s business and made me so proud. Love God, love people – it’s what we do.
Never one for much nuance this girl cut right to the chase in her introduction: “In the past I’ve been bullied before for who I am, and this song brings me a lot of joy.” No wonder. Talk about powerful lyrics:
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.
Truer words don’t exist my friends. We have all been subjected to sharp, cutting words that are meant to hurt us. But we cannot be defined by that. Don’t you think for one SECOND that someone else has the power to define who you are with ugliness.
In our schools around this country, one in four students report being bullied. Students with disabilities – like Emily who has high functioning autism and epilepsy – are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. Just to be clear in case you missed the point: those who need our support and compassion THE MOST are the ones being teased, tormented and bullied. What in the world has gotten into us?
Emily says the problem is with compassion. “To the students with no disabilities, I would say, you need to know that people with autism, ADHD, or mental health issues have a struggle with social skills and with life. Show some empathy. Ask them questions like, ‘Are you ok? What’s happening that is upsetting you?’ Stick up for them,” Emily calmly suggests. And most importantly, she offers this age-old wisdom: “Put yourself in their shoes.”
Emily admits she is not perfect. Because of her diagnosis and learning style, she had to learn many of these lessons the hard way but adds that her school (a private residential program out of state) taught her “how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner, and I learned boundaries.” In other words, she is learning how to stick up for herself as well as others. Emily thinks these are things ALL schools should spend more time teaching. Amen to that, sister!
Emily, serious and focused throughout the song as she performed on Sunday, finally relaxed at the very end, threw in a little dance hop for good measure, and literally beamed at the crowd. Just: be still my heart.
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.
I had the chance to catch up with Emily this week and this feisty, articulate young lady (who, by the way, gives AMAZING HUGS), is the definition of grace and love. I’d be honored if you scroll down and read her beautiful words shared with me during our conversation. Then do yourself a favor and watch the moment the cast and crew of The Greatest Showman knew their anthem song, “This is Me,” was destined to be something special.
Excerpts from Emily:
I first met Emily when she and her mom, Cecilia, attended a Mother-Daughter retreat hosted by Snowmass Chapel in 2012. Her smile is huge and her heart even bigger. I found her honesty and directness refreshing, though it’s easy to see how some peers might have been overwhelmed by her at times. People with autism don’t have all the social cues all of the time, let’s just say.
Eventually, Emily’s mom made the gut-wrenching decision to enroll Emily in a residential school 8 hours away so she could have the education she needed – in addition to academics, Emily also receives instruction in life skills, behavior therapy, and social skills. She and I caught up after church last week on a rare visit home, and our conversation was just too rich not to share. Here are some excerpts of wise words from our Emily:
On bullying and school culture:
“Bullying is a real issue for kids with special needs. Some kids cope with bullying through self-harm. The bullying causes anxiety and depression and then can lead to more serious things like cutting.”
“Most bullies just want to get a reaction. Don’t give it to them. Ignore them. And if ignoring doesn’t work, then learn to step away from the person and say, “Stop it. You are really hurting my feelings.” If someone is bullying you, be firm and respectful and ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work then go find a staff member or teacher.”
“But teachers (in most schools) need to help students more. They need to help students process their emotions, not just ignore kids who are upset or hurting. Teachers dismiss things by saying, “She didn’t mean that,” or “Go sit somewhere else.” Teachers should be compassionate and consider students’ negative feelings (validate their feelings). I think all kids on IEP (Individual Education Plan) should have a life skills class to help them socialize better and integrate into the school population better.”
“I had to learn a lot of things like how to make friends in a polite, appropriate manner. I also learned boundaries like sexual, emotional, physical, verbal and rigid (too strict). I learned how to have boundaries and how to respect others boundaries.”
“There is no such thing as ‘normal.’”
On helping teens accept each other:
“OK. For kids with special needs: Be who you are.”
“For kids who don’t have special needs just know that everyone with a disorder has different ways of expressing themselves. Kids with mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia don’t read cues as well, like body language and other things, so they might have outbursts and get angry. My advice is don’t fight back. They just get angry because they can’t always see what is really happening.”
“People need to know that kids with special needs have a struggle with social skills and with life. They take things personally and get anxious or have outbursts. You can help by showing empathy. Ask questions like “Are you ok? What is happening that is upsetting you?” instead of just teasing them or not wanting to be near them. Stick up for them. Put yourself in their shoes.”
“The same is true for people who are transgender (or LGBTQ). They are just expressing themselves. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were trying to express yourself by the way you dress or wear your hair and people put you down, how would that feel?”
On faith and religion:
“I will get my diploma in a year, and it will come from school AND from God. Because God helps me move forward. God helps me do things I don’t think I can.”
“I want to be a spiritual counselor for other people who are struggling. You can talk to God about anything.”
*This is Me Songwriters: Justin Paul / Benj Pasek, performed by Keala Settle
Cemeteries are interesting places. While I don’t particularly savor attending funerals for someone I have loved, there are aspects of cemeteries that are quite compelling.
Have you, when visiting a city or town with lots of history ever spent time in a cemetery because you knew there would be many things there that might shed some light on history? There is an amazing cemetery on Tremont Street in Boston. It dates back to 1660 and folks like Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere are buried there.
Then there are other cemeteries, like Arlington, that are so poignant, it can be hard to do anything but walk around in silence. And cemeteries like our own Hidden Valley Cemetery in Snowmass Village is a magnificent place to reflect, pray, and give thanks for those who have been part of our lives.
But it might surprise you to hear that I’ve had quite a few chuckles at cemeteries as well. Perhaps because I’ve officiated hundreds of funerals, for years, I have spent time reading epitaphs on headstones. You can even find lists of epitaphs that have been verified that are a bit off the wall.
For example, there is this epitaph on a gravestone. It reads, “Tried milking a cow that was really a bull. Milk can is empty but the grave is full.” Or this one. “Here lies the shell. The nut is gone.” Or this one at the grave of an auctioneer from 1876. “Going, going, going. Gone.” Then there is this from a gravesite in New Mexico. “Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.” And finally. “Ma loves Pa. Pa loves wimmin. Ma caught Pa with 2 in swimmin. Here lies Pa.”
I guess cemeteries came to mind these last few weeks for me because on Easter we talk about a tomb. Granted, not an ordinary tomb, but a tomb nevertheless. And the tomb I’d like to talk about does not have an epitaph. It does not need one as the person who was buried there is not there.
I believe if we spend enough time thinking about Easter and the fact that the tomb was empty and Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and if we can get to the place of trusting that the tomb was empty, even though we can’t see over the wall of death, Jesus’ resurrection tells us we have nothing to worry about and we can let go of any concerns anytime we come alongside of death.
Jesus’ resurrection, in fact, gives us much more than just a peek about what is ahead and on the other side. Jesus’ resurrection offers us tremendous hope, can affect how we live each day now, and offers us some solid things to hold onto about where we are headed in the future.
I love what one person says about Easter referring to Jesus’ empty tomb. This person writes, “The world often offers promises full of emptiness. Easter offers emptiness full of promise.” Indeed, the empty tomb is full of promises for each of us.
To help us explore what I mean about these things, let’s first for a moment take a look at the story of that first Easter morning and the days just before. On Friday, Jesus was nailed to a cross and died and by three that afternoon he took his last breath. A man named Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate, who governed the land of Judah on behalf of the Roman emperor, if he could have Jesus’ body and take it for proper burial. Pilate agreed and Joseph along with another took Jesus’ body and placed it into a tomb. After they laid Jesus’ body in the tomb, the tomb was sealed.
Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night passed. Then early the next morning, around sunrise, or just before, some women got up early and went to the tomb. They hoped that some folks would roll away the stone of the tomb so they could go inside and anoint Jesus’ body to prepare it for the long process of decay. But when they arrived, they discovered the stone had already been rolled away.
If you read the four Gospel accounts of Easter morning in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you will quickly notice that some of the details of that morning differ. Clearly different people who were witnesses focused on different aspects of that Easter morning.
But what is intriguing is that the four Gospel accounts all share the basic facts that Jesus’ body was not present that Easter morning. There is also a consensus that the women were told that Jesus had risen from the dead. And indeed he had. That they were told not to be afraid as they would soon see Jesus so to run and tell the others, namely the disciples, what had happened.
We also know from early eye witness accounts that Jesus did indeed appear to his disciples and to others in Galilee, Jerusalem, and on a road to a place called Emmaus. We are also told that Jesus appeared, on a variety of occasions, to well over 500 people after his resurrection. While Jesus was bodily raised from the dead as those early eyewitnesses attested to, what we don’t know is exactly what Jesus’ resurrected body looked like. That said, we do know that his resurrected body was such that people recognized him.
As one writer says, “The resurrection is not some legend. It is not a symbolic event. It is not something that represents some spiritual higher truth. When Jesus shows up he says, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is me. A ghost does not have flesh and bones. Do you have something to eat?’
In saying these things to those who saw him, Jesus in essence is saying, ‘I am not a symbol. I am really here. I am not just an impression in your mind. I am not just a kind of spiritual presence. I am here. Flesh, and bone. Touch me.’ Why are these details recorded. Because it happened.”
I love what another writer has to say about this. Here are some slightly adapted excerpts from Tim Keller. “Jesus’ resurrection tells us with certainty there is a future for us beyond death. It also tells us that the future we have beyond death is personal. We all want to be loved. We all want to be with those we love. The one thing we do not want is to lose those we love. Remember that Jesus shows up in resurrected form and says, ‘It is me. Look at me. It is me.’ So the future we have after death is personal and those we love are part of it.”
He goes onto write, “But the future is not only personal but certain. Why do we know this, because of Jesus’ resurrection. Our certain and personal future is love without parting, surrounded by love in which you and others are together. And the future is not only personal and certain but wonderful, unimaginably wonderful. The resurrection means we are going to miss nothing. This world, sunsets, symphonies, rock concerts, mountain beauty, friends, love, are but whispers, a prologue to a grander story.”
Here is what the theologian JJ Packer wrote, “On earth, people say I don’t want this to end but it does. In heaven people say I want this to go on forever, and it does.”
Easter and Jesus’ resurrection tell us all that we can trust and count on the fact that there is a future when we die, that such a future is personal and relational, that it is astonishingly wonderful, and that we can be certain of all of this. What great news. Christ is Risen!!
But as I mentioned earlier, the news of Easter is not just about the future, but also all about how we live now, day in and day out, with a sense of purpose, joy, and confidence.
A number of years ago there was a study done at UC San Diego. Here are some excerpts from an article published by the University about the study.
“Many of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid learning the endings of stories we have yet to read or see, plugging our ears, for example, and loudly repeating ‘la-la-la-la,’ when discussion threatens to reveal the outcome. But we are wrong and wasting our time, suggests a new study done at the University. Spoilers don’t spoil stories.
Contrary to popular wisdom, spoilers actually seem to enhance enjoyment. Subjects in the research study significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories and mysteries. This was shown in three different experiments. One researcher said, ‘Once you know how a story turns out, it is cognitively easier, you are more comfortable processing information, and can focus on the deeper understanding of the story.’”
I love that last line, “Once you know how a story turns out, you can focus on the deeper understanding of the story.” So maybe Jesus’ resurrection is not just about what happens next, but perhaps God, in part, gave us the resurrection as a spoiler alert so we can not only focus on the deeper understanding of why we are alive to begin with, but so that we can get to work transforming the world right now, knowing we need not worry about the future.
Said another way, “If I know I am going to be ok in the long run, I can get to work much harder today with all my strength, because tomorrow is taken care of.” As NT Wright once said, “God wants us to work to overcome all the wrongs there are in the world knowing what is ahead.”
Because of the resurrection, we can be filled with hope, not only for the future, but for what we can do today. The resurrection tells us once and for all that despite how things might seem at a given moment, God has been in charge, continues to be in charge, and will always be in charge. So we can trust God and get to work on God’s behalf.
Remember earlier I mentioned several epitaphs from a variety of gravestones. There are some great ones at the graves of some celebrities. On Rodney Dangerfield’s headstone it reads, “There goes the neighborhood.” On Mel Blanc’s headstone, the man who had the great voice for so many Disney cartoons, it says, “That’s all folks.” But there is one I really like. It is on the headstone of Frank Sinatra. It simply reads, “The Best is Yet to Come.”
What a great epitaph because it reminds us all that beyond this life there is an amazing, wondrous, and beautiful future for us all. And with this in mind, we can live each day making a big difference in the lives of those around us, by loving God and loving people by what we do, with boundless hope and without fear. Happy Easter!!!