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Hymn # 14 For the Beauty of the Earth
Prayer of Invocation
God of life,
we praise you for the miracle of Easter.
We pray for great joy for ourselves and for all who come
to worship today to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.
We pray especially for those who will join us for worship
and whose lives are filled with pain, loss, or deep sadness.
May they sense how the resurrection is a source of great hope. Amen.
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
in raising Jesus from the grave,
you shattered the power of sin and death.
We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear,
bound by the ways that lead to death.
We overlook the poor and the hungry
and pass by those who mourn;
we are deaf to the cries of the oppressed
and indifferent to calls for peace;
we despise the weak
and abuse the earth you made.
Forgive us, God of mercy.
Help us to trust your power
to change our lives and make us new,
that we may know the joy of life abundant
given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have died.
For since death came through a human being,
the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
Prayer for Illumination
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
From everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Speak to us now as you have spoken to us throughout the ages.
On this glorious Easter, reveal yourself and your will for our lives,
that we might live as your Easter people.
We seek your face, O Lord; hear our prayer through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then 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?” 19 He 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and 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. 24 Some 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Sermon: What Things?
Good morning. How are you doing? How are you holding up? This is only our sixth week of online worship, but it feels like an eternity, doesn’t it?
A week or two into the shelter-in-place order, any time someone asked me how I was doing or how I was holding up, my standard answer was, “I’m great!” And it was true! I was very excited and hopeful when this quarantine began. I know it sounds a little weird, but I think that a lot of my colleagues in ministry felt the same way.
For years, a lot of us have been telling our congregations that we need to change. We need to find new ways to be the church. We need to adapt to the rhythms of life in the twenty-first century. We need to break the habit of doing things the way we’ve always done them. Oh, and we need to get outside of our walls. Believe it or not, I’m not the only pastor who’s been saying this.
Church leaders everywhere have said: Alleluia! This is going to force us to change! We saw all the different opportunities for our members to connect with one another. We saw all the different ways we could make lemonade. And for a while, it was great.
Then we got the lemons.
We started hearing from our members who were getting furloughed from their jobs. Worse, many of us have parishioners who are sick, but we can’t visit them. Some of my colleagues have lost members to the coronavirus. While this congregation has been fortunate thus far, we all know someone who is sick or who has died. And all of us have been on one too many Zoom meetings.
Personally, I hit the wall a little over a week ago. I was all out of optimism. I just wanted the quarantine to be over. I’d read one too many outraged postings on Facebook. I’d heard one sad story too many. I’d been on one more meeting on Zoom than I could stand. I was done. Even though I knew that many people were going through worse things than me, I was wrung out. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
That combination of grief, anxiety, and uncertainty was overwhelming. It felt like an accordion that just kept expanding. I imagine that’s how the disciples felt in those days between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection—in those moments before they saw the risen Christ.
In our story this morning from the Gospel of Luke, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple are fleeing from Jerusalem. They’re on the road to the village of Emmaus. Perhaps they were afraid of being persecuted for following Jesus. They knew Jesus was holy and special, but as far as they knew, Jesus was dead. How could Jesus possibly be the Messiah?
Then a stranger starts walking alongside them. The stranger asks what they’re talking about. Their eyes are prevented from seeing that it’s Jesus who’s walking with them. They’re incredulous. How does this stranger NOT know what’s been going on in Jerusalem over the last several days?
Then Jesus uncorks what is probably the funniest line in all of the Gospels: “What things?” Okay, I think it’s the funniest line in the Gospels, but in this time of grief, uncertainty, and anxiety, I don’t blame you if you’re not feeling the humor in this one. But trust me, this is funny!
First, there’s nothing more annoying than a cheerful person, when you want to wallow in your own self-pity. And the disciples certainly have a good reason to grieve: they followed Jesus and then they watched him die. Of course, they’re hurting! That’s normal. That’s righteous.
But there’s something funny about their blindness.
Remember, one of the recurring themes in all the Gospels is that the disciples don’t quite understand what’s going on. And in a very real sense, they can’t. They can’t fully appreciate who Jesus is until the resurrection. They can’t fully understand who the Messiah was until Jesus was raised from the dead. They thought the Messiah was something different.
What Cleopas and the other disciple fail to recognize is that Jesus is walking with them. Jesus is walking with them the whole time. Jesus is right there beside them in the midst of their grief and fear.
Beloved, Jesus is with us in the midst of our fear, uncertainty, and anxiety!
Like Cleopas and the other disciple, we often fail to see Jesus walking alongside of us. This is true even when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic. If we were gathered in the sanctuary this morning, I might focus the sermon on all the things that prevent us from seeing Jesus. But right now, the things that are blocking our sight are painfully obvious: the pandemic and the quarantine; the challenges of living our lives when our routines have been disrupted; the uncertainty of who will get sick, who will die, and how long we all have to shelter in place.
Our fears and anxieties are real—even if some are suffering more than others. Our challenges are real—even if some have greater challenges than we do. We are like Cleopas and the other disciple. And like Cleopas and the other disciple, we just have to keep walking.
In our story this morning, Cleopas and the other disciple do everything right. Sure, they fail to recognize Jesus—at first. But they let Jesus into their conversation, and into their pain. They listen, as Jesus teaches them, one more time, about who the Messiah really is. Then they offer hospitality. They invite Jesus into their home and they ask him to share a meal with them. And then, in the breaking of the bread, Jesus is revealed to them! All is clear! Jesus is revealed in the most common of things, sharing a simple, ordinary meal.
At the beginning of this story, Cleopas and the other disciple are distraught, yet they keep walking. Their actions demonstrate that they absorbed Jesus’ lessons, even if they couldn’t quite see the risen Christ walking alongside them. They kept walking, they welcomed Jesus, and then, when the truth was revealed to them, they went back to Jerusalem as fast as they could to share the news of the resurrection!
Beloved, this works! In the last two weeks, a couple things have helped to pull me out of my funk. First, I got a call from an old friend back in western PA. He’s a buddy from the cigar shop where I used to work and hang out and the call was completely unexpected. I didn’t even know he had my phone number. And in an instant, I felt connected, not alone.
The other thing that helped to pull me back was leading Koinonia. Weekly Bible studies are a way that we all can remain connected. It’s part of the rhythm of church life. It keeps me grounded. And in times like this, it’s a lifeline for everyone who participates. It’s a way of breaking bread, spiritually.
Beloved, if you are feeling Jesus walking alongside of you, share the Good News with others. Run back to Jerusalem and tell the other disciples! Tell anyone who will listen. And if you’re not feeling Jesus walking with you in these challenging times, let someone know. Because it’s our responsibility to help you keep moving.
Remember, too, that this period of social distancing won’t last forever. After the shelter-in-place orders are lifted, it will be even more urgent to share the news of the resurrection with the people outside of our walls. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 247 Now the Green Blade Rises
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
This morning we lift up a number of people who are struggling with COVID-19. First, we lift up Darrell Parks, who lost his struggle with the virus on Thursday. This is Trena Parks’ brother. We ask prayers of peace and comfort for Tyrone Brown, who is Darrell’s nephew, but Darrell has raised him as a son. Prayers also for Trena and all of her family in this time of grief.
We lift up a young woman named Sarah. Sarah is in her 20s and she’s battling cancer. As awful as that is, Sarah contracted COVID-19 in the midst of her struggle with cancer. Last Sunday morning, Sarah was put on a ventilator. Prayers for healing and wholeness for Sarah, in whatever form those may take. Prayers for her friends and family, for a release from anxiety and fear during this time.
We also lift up Heath Persily and his family. Heath rented a house from Helen Burke. Heath died last week from pancreatitis. He was 34. He leaves behind a partner, Melissa Weber, a young daughter, Heather, and a stepson, Colton. Prayers for peace and comfort for Melissa, Heather, and Colton in this time of darkness.
We pray today for the family of Aida Dierking, who passed away at the age of 96. Aida was a longtime friend of Bob DiSogra’s. Prayers for comfort for Aida’s family in this time of loss.
We have two prayer shawls this week. The yellow one is for Joann Corso, who is a friend of Carol Matino. Joann is suffering from a severe illness. We pray for healing and wholeness for Joann, in whatever form may come.
The green shawl is for Diana Colonna, a friend of Robin Fox. Diana is suffering from COVID-19. Prayers for healing and wholeness for Diana.
Please also include JOHN (friend of Doug & Alyson Craig) suffering from COVID-19, as well as Darrell Parks.
Finally, we lift up all of the workers on the front lines of the pandemic: the first responders, the hospital workers, the physicians, and of course, the nurses, including those from our own congregation: Diane Canto, Christie McCoy, and Susan McKinney. May God watch over all these helpers in this uncertain time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 529 Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether