Looking Back, Moving Forward
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “Where Will You Go?”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
April 26, 2020
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
We are in a time when looking back, wanting to “get back to normal,” wanting to have things “be like they were,” seems to be the big talker. That’s understandable because everything that was “normal” has been turned over by the problems and solutions for this worldwide pandemic.
In the same way the disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter were looking back, in shock and grief about what had happened to Jesus. Until they met Jesus on the road, then his presence, his words, his actions turned them from looking back to moving forward.
Looking back while you are moving forward can be dangerous. We wouldn’t want to do that while we are driving. Thursday night in the video chat we held I asked about “road trips” you might have taken. “Road trips” could be vacations you’ve taken for days or weeks at a time, or it might be just a run down A1A or up A1A to a favorite restaurant in Vilano or Fernandina. A road trip is usually a “getaway.” We want to getaway from home for awhile, or from the routine, or from too much “normal.” Funny how when normal becomes impossible we are ready to go back. I can remember a few vacations where I was very glad to see home again and getting back to “normal.”
These days that temptation can cause us a lot of problems. I think our faith invites us to question what we call “normal.” I think a lot of what we call “normal” God calls abnormal, wrong even. So I hear this passage speaking to the disruption of normal, the veering off the course back to “the way things were.” I hear resurrection as “blowing up” normal.
Looking back, we may realize some things we liked that we cannot do now, it’s true. But looking back there are a lot of things that we ought to consider – do we want to rush back to them? If normal is only desirable if you “had it made,” then maybe we should move forward to a time when we care about those who don’t “have it made.” If normal is only desirable because you have a job, a house, your health, a 401k for your retirement, and health insurance then maybe it is time to move forward and create a world where no one goes without those things. Or at least where we work for that reality rather than condemn those who don’t have those things as being lazy, useless, and weak and therefore expendable in our economy and in our nation and in our world.
What if we imagined the possibilities of a new world, a redeemed world, a resurrected and transformed world where we didn’t hate others because they were poor, or they were immigrants, or they were members of another religion or no religion? What is we moved forward and built that world in the name of a risen Savior who meets us on the road and becomes visible, recognizable when we share our bread by breaking it and passing it to one another?
On that road trip to Emmaus Jesus spoke to the disciples about the past – the time of Moses and times of the prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. These times were times when God moved people to lead people out of bondage, out of slavery to injustice and suffering. It was a time when God’s people spoke out on behalf of the suffering and challenged the religious and political and economic systems of the kings and the Chief Priests to do what God called good. That was the way Jesus pointed. He pointed back to remind them of the way forward. He pointed out that God’s people have always worked to move forward into a more blessed life for all – a land of Promise and blessing. He reminded them that God has always been in the resurrection business – leading people out to new realities from bondage and death and injustice.
Professor David Lose, [“In the Meantime,” davidlose.net, 4/13/15,] wrote once, that,
“Earlier in the verses before this reading, Luke tells us that the disciples dismissed the testimony of the women who had been to the empty tomb as an “idle tale.” Actually, that’s not what Luke tells us, that’s the water-downed translation we’re used to. The Greek word Luke employs – leros – is the root of our word delirious. So in response to the testimony of the women, the disciples say they are out of their [bloody] minds. Nice.”
Benjamin Franklin is famously quoted as telling a friend that two things were certain: death and taxes. Except now death is not certain. But that is not universally accepted. Not everyone believes that the earth ever gives up her dead. Yet, our faith is built on the claim that Jesus did just that. Our faith speaks of new life, of a new world, of a new reality. To claim faith in a Savior who is alive – 2000 years after his death – is to claim something either completely wacky or completely needed.
I have to confess that, while I say I believe in the resurrection, I am not sure I always act as if God’s promises are true. David Lose says, what if we “acted like God’s promises were true.” How might we “live differently if we acted like God’s promises were true. We nod our heads on Sunday, but then we live Monday through Saturday as if they aren’t true. “But if it’s true that God raised Jesus from the dead… If it’s true that God promises to renew the whole creation and grant us new life… If it’s true that nothing – nothing we’ve done or has been done to us – can separate us from the love of God… If it’s true that God will not turn God’s back on any of us but always reaches out to us in grace, mercy, and forgiveness… If any of this – let alone all of this – is true, then how might we live our lives this week differently?” Shoot, how might we live the rest of today differently? “How might this faith – not knowledge, but trusting, courageous faith – change how we look at our relationships, and our politics, and our work, and our resources, and our future?” But let’s not be too hard on ourselves. If we have a bit of trouble acting on what we say we believe, “well, then let’s keep in mind that we’re in good company. Jesus’ first disciples struggled with all this as well.”
But for some strange reason doubt turned when they broke bread with Jesus. I don’t know why. I don’t know “how” Jesus was suddenly revealed in the breaking of the bread. I want to give you normal, logical reasons, but I don’t have any. I wish I could give a good “supernatural” explanation but I am no good at those either. All I can say is maybe let’s keep repeating the experiment until it comes true for all of us. If you can’t find a reason why Christ would be revealed in the breaking of bread, well, let’s keep doing it until we do find a reason. I can’t find a single reason why going backward to a bad normal is better than moving forward to a new reality. Maybe it takes broken bread to do that, so let’s keep breaking bread.
Maybe moving forward we can look at the most ordinary actions and beliefs and times of our lives as a “bread breaking” moment, a moment to reveal Jesus to someone, a moment to reveal hope, a moment to reveal a new future, a moment to reveal a world where all God’s people and all God’s creation live without Coronavirus’s and Earth Day – which we observed or ignored a few days ago – is observed and celebrated EVERY day. What a world that would be! I think that world is waiting on the other side of resurrection.
Remember that quote I used on Easter – that we are standing in a gateway – a portal in these “Star Trek” times. It is a portal between “one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it dragging behind us the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies. OR we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to [work] for it. – Arundhati Roy quoted in PrayerandPolitiks.org