Keep Bumbling On
Luke 24:13-24, 28-35
Preached at Parkminster UC, April 26, 2020 – online worship
Rev. Heather Power
A number of years ago, there was a wonderful TV movie released called “Into the Storm.” Through a series of flashbacks, Winston Churchill, played by actor Brendan Gleeson, examines his role in World War II and the difficult decisions he was called upon to make, not only for England, but for the Allied Forces and, I suppose, the world.
In a visit to King George the 6th, the two men talked about those decisions, reflecting on whether they were right, as they inched toward new ones they had to make. In a quiet moment in the conversation, Winston says to the King, “we keep bumbling on.” Minutes later, as the two men prepare to depart, the King puts his hand on Winston’s shoulder and says, “KBO, Winston, KBO.” Keep bumbling on. Living in this time of pandemic that feels like a fair motto for right now as well. KBO my friends, keep bumbling on.
We get the feeling this is a KBO moment for the two disciples who are walking to Emmaus following the death of their leader, teacher and friend. They are in a bit of shock as they walk, full of grief, seeking a way to keep bumbling on, despite their disappointment. Luke is such a great story-teller; he invites a so-called “stranger” to join them, one who supposedly knows nothing about all that has happened, so that we can hear about it second-hand and also remember the women’s experience at the empty tomb.
In keeping with the other post-resurrection accounts, Luke does not overwhelm us or coerce us into believing, but rather offers us a story that might reflect our own experience. We see, but cannot see; we believe, but cannot imagine; we want to be open, but are often too caught up in our own feelings and thoughts to move into that wide open and abundant space of God’s clarity and hope.
The post Easter stories remind us of the myriad of ways we allow ourselves to fall out of Easter. It was certainly a wonderful, joyful distraction for us all – the Alleluias and the good feelings that passed among us. But that kind of joy is hard to maintain – especially this year. By Easter Monday the days in this pandemic existence started blending together once again – as our new routines helped give some shape and form to our every day. Doubt, grief, irritation, our daily anxieties, all have returned with gusto, as if the stone of the empty tomb has been rolled back into place again and our joy and hope locked up for another year.
These two disciples had gotten used to a leader they could see and touch, someone they could talk to and hang out with on Saturday nights if things got dull. Now everything was out of whack and the future looked bleak and hopeless all over again. Sound familiar? These disciples tell us that joy can be hard to maintain on our own; we need something to stoke the fires within to get us on the road to believing that Easter is always in us, rather than a one-time event. Sometimes new life comes in fits and starts. Sometimes, seeing and recognizing the risen Christ is hard.
The spoken on the road to Emmaus are words of pain, disappointment, bewilderment, and yearning. They are the words we say when we’ve come to the end of our hopes — when our expectations have been dashed, our cherished dreams are dead, and there’s nothing left to do but leave, defeated and done. But we had hoped.
In our Gospel story this morning, Cleopas and his companion say these same words to the stranger who appears alongside them as they walk to Emmaus on Easter evening: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
This year, as the Covid-19 crisis continues to wreak havoc around the world, and we as a country deal with the shock and pain of the tragic events in Nova Scotia last weekend, I am grateful for the honest witness of this post-resurrection story. I’m grateful for this journey story, when hope is possible but not yet realized. I’m grateful that even the road to Emmaus — the road of brokenness, the road of bumbling, the road of failure — is a sacred road. A road that Jesus walks. A road that honors our deep disappointment, even as it holds out possibilities of nourishment and revelation.
The Gospel message calls us to:
Open our eyes,
Break some new bread,
Celebrate the good news
And live with hope.
I have been impressed over the past month or so at how we as a church and how we as The United Church of Canada have lived into this time. We may feel like we’ve just been bumbling along at times, but I’ve also witnessed a church open to new ideas and ways of being community, a church offering extravagant welcome through online opportunities for anyone who is seeking spiritual nurture or comfort, and a church embodying courage and hope amidst the pandemic and other tragedies in our world.
Even in the midst of physical distancing and other measures, our denomination continues to walk with the Living Christ into the world with eyes wide open and hearts blazing. I believe that this is a moment of opportunity for those of us who would speak a clear word of love and justice to a world that is hungry to hear about a church not afraid to speak out about issues of power, perception and right relationship. It’s clear that the United Church of Canada embraces a risk-taking God and is a risk-taking church, one that desires to give voice to those who don’t always have a voice in the world.
Scattered across the country, over 60 community ministries are supported by the Mission & Service of The United Church of Canada. These ministries serve the most vulnerable people in our society, providing basic needs.
But in this time of pandemic, it is more challenging than ever.
A number of our community ministries also provide housing units for tenants and shelter for homeless people. They are working with local and provincial housing providers on protocols, and facing health challenges of people who are homeless or in shelters, rooming houses, and tent cities. Self-isolation is a privilege accorded to few people in these communities with one minister noting,
“Tent cities are opening up again, which shows how badly behind we are in all provinces in providing real housing for the vulnerable. We recognize that it is hard for vulnerable people to process ‘self-isolation,’ as they have always felt isolated and vulnerable. The need for housing and support for people with addictions and severe mental health issues is even more critical than ever.”
Like those in congregational ministry, community ministries are working tirelessly to provide as many services as possible, working to find ways to connect and provide ongoing support.
Community ministry staff are keenly aware, as are the people in their communities, that while all levels of government are responding to the COVID-19 virus, never before have such measures been taken to address the social injustices of homelessness and poverty so rampant in urban and rural communities in Canada.
(Excerpts taken from: https://www.united-church.ca/news/front-lines-covid-19)
It is in these same communities where we will encounter the Living God. In the lives of those struggling and the lost and the needy and those whose life story is much different than ours, or more like our own than we realize. This city is teeming with contrasts between the haves and have nots, the settled and unsettled. Now more than ever, our world seems smaller – more deeply connected.
Who are the vulnerable in our communities? Where do we see Christ in our neighborhoods? Where are you seeing good news stories of the small things local individuals or businesses are doing to make a big difference for others right now? Who is thriving in our town? Who is barely surviving? How will our eyes be opened to the needs of our world? What small things can you, can I, can we do?
These days, I notice the smallness of things more. Once Jesus and his companions are seated around the table, Jesus takes bread. He takes, blesses, breaks, and gives. Such a small thing. Such a small thing that changes everything.
During these hard days of sheltering in place, hearing horrific stories of death and suffering, and fearing for our futures as individuals, families, communities, and nations, it’s difficult to trust in the transformative power of small things. A bit of bread. A sip of wine. A common table. A shared meal.
But the Emmaus story speaks to this power — the power of the small and the commonplace to reveal the divine. God shows up during a quiet evening walk on a neighbourhood street. God is made known around our dinner tables. God reveals God’s self when we take, bless, break, and give. God is present in the rhythms and rituals of our seemingly ordinary days.
What does this mean right now? It means God is in the text you send to the neighbour you can’t visit during quarantine. God appears in the Zoom gathering, the livestream worship service, the phone call, the greeting card. Jesus is the stranger you see across the street when you walk your dog. The sacred is in the conversation you have with your stir-crazy child, the technology you attempt to master so that you can talk to your friends and relatives across the distances, the loved one who challenges you to reframe the story of these days in the light of God’s inexplicable provision and love.
If the Emmaus story tells us anything, it tells us that the risen Christ is not confined in any way by the seeming smallness of our lives. Wherever and whenever we make room, Jesus is there.
“But we had hoped.” Yes, we had. Of course we had. So many things are very different right now than we had hoped they’d be. And yet, the stranger who is Jesus the Christ still meets us on the lonely road to Emmaus as we bumble along. The guest who becomes our host still nourishes us in body, mind and spirit.
So stay on this path. Keep telling the story. Keep honoring the stranger. Keep attending to your burning heart. The Easter story continues. Thanks be to God. Amen.
*Inspiration for parts of this sermon come from thoughts from Debbie Thomas, with thanks and gratitude.