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Worship and Sermons
April 26, 2020

“We Had Hoped . . . ” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, April 26, 2020, Year A / Easter 2 – Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19  •  1 Peter 1:17-23  •  Luke 24:13-35

THEME:  Choose the path of hope by learning to see Jesus in the presence of others, even strangers, and letting him speak through us.

 

Who is your favorite Superhero?  That’s one of those questions every kid has been asked since the first superhero comic books in 1938.  Today, kids are most likely to pick Batman or Spiderman.  I always had two favorites.  The Green Lantern and, of course, the original superhero:  Superman.

When I was in High School, I was mesmerized by the Superman movies that came out, starring Christopher Reeve.  But it turned out that he himself was every bit as much a superhero as the one he played.

You’ll remember Christopher Reeve was tragically paralyzed at age 43 while competing in a horse show.  Damage to his spinal cord left him unable to walk and without sensation throughout his body.

He later admitted, in the days and months following his accident, that he seriously considered suicide.  But his wife, Dana, would not lose hope.  And she refused to let him lose hope.  In the following years, he credited her for nurturing his determination to walk again. 

By the time he died of a heart attack in 2006, he had regained partial movement in his fingers and his toes.  Along the way, he and his wife created a lasting legacy of hope:  together, they established the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center and Foundation which has helped thousands of paralysis victims keep hope alive. 

That is exactly what those two disciples desperately need as they walk down the dusty Emmaus Road.

They are perplexed.  The events of the last three days in Jerusalem have left them with no answers, and no certainty.  As the walk along, sifting through all that has happened, they can’t escape the conclusion that their hopes for Jesus have been sadly misplaced.

They heard what the women said earlier that morning.  They returned from the tomb telling a wild tale of angels promising that Jesus was alive.  But they didn’t believe it.  When they went to check things out for themselves, they found the stone rolled away, but no angels and no Jesus, either.  The only thing left to do was to gather their things and return home to Emmaus.  

Then they bump into a stranger who wants to know what they’re discussing.  He seems utterly clueless about the dramatic events that have just taken place.  So, they explain their confusion and despair, speaking to this stranger like they would to a simpleton.

“We had hoped he would be the one to redeem us.”  But now their hopes are dashed.

We know how that feels, don’t we?  Haven’t we all felt that way? 

We’ve all hoped for a world that looks more like the Kingdom than the one we currently live in.  We’ve all hoped and prayed for deliverance from what looks like a dead-end in our career, friendships, family, or even our marriage.  We’ve all hoped and prayed for deliverance from a terrifying diagnosis.

More than anything, we want redemption, a new lease on life. 

I think we feel that way right now.  After weeks of semi-quarantine, we still have to stay home, isolated from others.  At the same time, we also know there’s a life and death struggle going on in hospitals all around us.  Doctors, nurses, aides, first responders and others are risking their lives to treat those who are infected.  

We want to DO something.  But the best thing we can do is stay home, socially distant from those we love and those we’d like to help.  So, we pray and we hope Jesus will deliver all of us from the crisis of this pandemic.

In just the last few days, we’ve gotten a glimmer of good news – the tide of infections is receding.  We might be able to return to our daily routines in a few weeks. 

Even so, we realize this new normal isn’t going to be like our old normal.  So, we grieve the loss of our old lives, in addition to who’ve lost their lives to the virus. 

And, we pray some more.  In Jesus’ name we pray for release from the paralyzing tyranny of anxiety, fear, infection and death itself.  Above all, we hope for new life – a life that really is life, the life Jesus promises.

And we’re asking the right person.  Jesus promises our prayers will be heard and he will be present among us.  But, as hard as we pray, and as much as we hope, there are times when we look for him, but we just can’t seem to see him.  People continue to get sick.  People continue to die.  Our lives continue to be disrupted.

Like Cleopas and his fellow disciple walking down the Emmaus Road trying to make sense of it all, we, too, know what it feels like when our hopes of deliverance seem to be dashed.

You and I face the same choice they did.  We can lose ourselves in disillusionment.  We can walk around in despair, with our heads down, wondering why Jesus, if he is indeed risen, doesn’t seem to be here with us.

OR we can decide, despite our present circumstances, to trust the promise that Jesus is very much alive and very much with us.  This is the far better choice.

It’s the path of hope, the path that leads to life.  To follow it, we’re going to have to learn to see Jesus in others, even complete strangers.  We’re going to have be open to the possibility that Jesus may very well be working through them to bring us into that new and abundant life God promises.

There’s an old joke about a man stranded on his rooftop during a flood.  He’s a devout Christian and he prays to God fervently for help.

In short order, a man in a rowboat comes by. He shouts out, "Jump in, I’ll save you."

The stranded man shouts back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God.  He’ll save me."  So the man in the rowboat leaves to rescue someone else.

Then another man comes by in a motorboat, followed soon after by a man in a helicopter.  Both offer to help save this stranded man, but he turns them both away, saying "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he’s going to save me. I have faith."

Soon the water rises above the rooftop and the man drowns.  In heaven, he’s pretty steamed. He wonders why God didn’t save him.  Finally, he gets his chance to discuss this with God.  More than a little perturbed, he says, “God, I had faith in you.  Why didn’t you save me?”

God replies, "Well, I sent Jesus to you in a rowboat, a motorboat and a helicopter.  What more did you want?"

Friends, in all seriousness, I wonder how many times Christ has been speaking to us through another person, but we failed to recognize him.

I recently read the story of an ICU nurse at a Brooklyn Hospital.  Her name is Janett Perez.  Up until the virus overwhelmed her hospital with coronavirus patients a month ago, she would ordinarily have been working with stroke patients and accident survivors.

Now, as in every other New York City Hospital, Janett and most of her colleagues work exclusively with those suffering from COVID-19 infection.

They work harder, under more difficult and dangerous conditions, than any of them ever have before.  Just as the pandemic has altered the way all of us live and work, it’s also altered the conditions in which her patients either recover or, for the majority, the way they die.

Visitors are banned until a patient’s final hours of life.  Even then, only one immediate family member is permitted to be with them as they die.  And so it falls to nurses like Janett to be the hopeful presence and comforting voice of a patient’s loved ones.

The way she does this is remarkable.  She talks to them like she would a friend or a family member. Because hearing is one of the last senses to go, she even sings to them.  

In a recent interview, she said, “Many covid patients pass away, but you can’t determine that others won’t do well. . . . That’s what we have to hold on to, that hope that people will do better.  And we have to treat them with the expectation that they will.”

Janett has chosen the path of hope.  She invites her patients and their loved ones to have hope as well.  For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, hers is the face and voice of Jesus.  

Friends, you and I can learn to see and hear him, too.  It’s a habit we can all develop.  It just takes practice and discipline.  But Jesus wants even more than that.  He wants to be present to others in us and through us

That means we’re all going to have get better at letting our hope dictate our thoughts, words and actions.  That means we all have to be more like Superman.

As Christopher Reeve famously said, “Once you choose hope, anything's possible.”  And it’s Jesus who makes it possible.

We are an Easter people.  Let’s trust the promise that Jesus is still here with us, calling us to choose the path of hope.  Let’s raise our heads.  Let’s open our hearts and our eyes to see him more clearly. 

When we do, we may be shocked and amazed, like the disciples breaking bread with Jesus that night, to find that he has been with us all the time.

Even more, we may be amazed that Jesus has been speaking through us as well.   

May it be so.

Last Published: April 27, 2020 10:25 AM
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