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April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
Psalm 116; Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones
“We had hoped.” One of the saddest sentences ever uttered. Dashed hopes are soul-searing. What was purported to be a robust economy was so fragile that it was shattered in a few weeks. We can look back before the Covid-19 virus sent a tenth of the U.S. population applying for unemployment and remember what we had hoped before. Young people finishing degrees had hoped to start careers. Employed people had hoped to move up the career ladder. Folks nearing retirement had hoped they would soon be living a life of leisure and financial security. People living paycheck to paycheck had hoped they could get ahead of their bills this year. Families who had hoped for many years ahead with their loved ones are now mourning their deaths. We can imagine the pain Cleopas and his companion were experiencing as they walked away from Jerusalem to Emmaus. For them, Jesus was their hope for a brighter future. They had hoped Jesus would deliver the Jews from the oppression of the Roman Empire. They had hoped that Jesus would restore their dignity in a society in which they were marginalized. According to Eusebius, the first church historian, Cleopas was a relative of Jesus. You can imagine these two travelers walked with heavy steps and heavy hearts. You know, the kind of grief that affects your whole body, weighs it down with sadness so it is hard to even get out of bed in the morning.
We had hoped. In the past perfect tense, the verb, “hope,” negates itself and more. It means we have no hope because it has been taken from us and replaced with grief, regret, anger, or anxiety – and any number of combinations thereof. As the weeks of “shelter in place” wear on we are witnessing signs of hope accompanied by acts of courage, perseverance, compassion, and unity. We are also witnessing signs of hopelessness with hoarding, exploitation, bigotry, and division. Losing hope can crush our wills and make us inactive. Consider the world stage and the people trapped in war zones, on lands that will no longer produce crops, in refugee camps, or in societies in which they are a persecuted minority. We need only look at our own communities and witness the effects of lost hope. It weighs a body down.
For Cleopas and his companion, their loss of hope weighed so heavily upon them they could not even recognize the risen Christ when they met him face to face. What re-ignited their hope? The resurrected Jesus told them stories of scripture that affirmed God’s steadfast love and covenantal promise. Cleopas and his companion felt drawn to this man and wanted to know more. They did what Jesus had done for so many, they offered to share a meal with Him. When the Risen Christ blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to them, their “eyes were opened.” In Word and Sacrament, in an act of generosity and fellowship shared with a stranger, they saw Jesus. They recognized the Risen Christ and then rushed to share the Good News with others. In this short testimony, Cleopas and his companion modeled Christ’s commission to his disciples and the role of the church in the world.
We do not hear from Cleopas and his traveling companion again, so we do not know if or how their lives changed after their encounter with the Risen Christ. Based on the accounts in the book of Acts, we can infer that they, like the other disciples, discovered a new hope that was better than the one they imagined before. They proceeded to a “new and better normal” with the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Acts, Luke recounts the birth of the Christian Church with Jesus’ apostles spreading the stories of their experiences with him during his ministry and their witness to his resurrection. In our reading from Acts today, Peter is concluding his Pentecost speech in Jerusalem, which had been interrupted by the gift of the Holy Spirit blowing through the crowd of listeners. Peter states a harsh reality. They were accountable for the crucifixion of their Savior. But, instead of cowering in that condemnation, they model the proper Christian response to the assurance of God’s forgiveness after sincere confession, they ask: “What shall we do?” They want to act. Peter responds: “Repent and be baptized.” This is repentance – not just confession but also correction. Repentance is the sign of eyes opened, as the risen Christ did for Cleopas and his companion, to a new way of being in the world. Baptism is the sign of restored hope ready for action.
In our epistle reading from 1 Peter, the author describes in more detail what this new way of being in the world should look like. The author exhorts his readers to be disciplined and ethical. He expresses concern that they will return to the unethical behaviors that characterized their lives prior to becoming Christian. My fear today, is the lessons we are learning from the Covid-19 pandemic will be forgotten or discarded when the threat has passed. To profit from these lessons requires the kind of discipline and ethical behavior of which the author of 1 Peter writes. If not, we will be lamenting; “We had hoped…”
With our eyes open to the spirit and power of the resurrection we have cause for hope. We continue to witness the signs of Christ’s presence in the world. We are seeing it in “essential workers” risking their lives to save or serve others. We are seeing it in neighbors sharing with and caring for one another. We are seeing it in those who have risen to guide us through these dark and fearful times with wisdom, honesty, and compassion. With Christ as the ultimate leader that guides our lives toward the kingdom of God, may you live with this kind of hope and be this hope for others.
© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2020, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Avenue | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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“Throughout the week, there are many worldly things pulling me away from my commitment to God. I come to church on Sunday at Westminster to reconnect and renew my relationship with Him. Part of my worship is to ask him for forgiveness for my lack of faithfulness. I leave, reminded that he loves me, forgives me, and walks beside me every day. What a profound blessing that is!”