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April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
Many of you know that, prior to becoming a pastor, I served as a missionary for the ELCA in Costa Rica. And it was there that I received my call to word and sacrament ministry. My time in Costa Rica wasn’t always the smoothest, especially in the beginning.
The job I interviewed for and was hired to do was children’s and youth ministry program development. I was excited and I was ready to jump in with both feet. But when I got to Costa Rica and met with the church leaders there, they said, “We don’t know what you’re talking about. This is what you’re going to do.”
And what they wanted me to do was work with ELCA congregations from the US, scheduling short-term mission trips and accompanying them while they were in-country. Which is what I ended up doing, and I loved it.
But at first, I was angry and upset and disappointed. The sudden change of job amplified the culture shock and feelings of homesickness that I was already experiencing. I’d been counting on the job to help distract me from that and take the edge off it. And then that was gone.
So in the first month, instead of jumping feet first into a new adventure, I cried a lot. Adding to my frustration, was that I felt like I should have been able to just plow through my grief and disappointment, but I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried.
I thought about that time a lot as I prepared for today – particularly as I read about the disciples at the very beginning of the gospel story. When they’re walking to Emmaus, on the first Easter, trying to make sense of everything that had happened.
They were still coming to terms with what had happened on Good Friday when the women told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But they hadn’t seen him yet, and so they didn’t believe that he was risen.
And their comment to Jesus, whom they didn’t yet recognize, about what they’d hoped for. “We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” And how disappointed they were that things didn’t go at all the way they thought they would.
But even as they said this, Jesus kept walking with them at their pace. He didn’t berate them or belittle them. Instead, he revealed to them everything about himself. He reminded them of the stories and the prophecies they’d heard about the Messiah when they were growing up. But it was in the simplest of acts that the disciples finally recognized who their companion was.
It was in the sharing of a meal. Not even a sacrament. A common event that they’d experienced dozens of times before where Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. It was through that simple, yet familiar act that they recognized Jesus – and that he was the one they’d hoped for.
About a month after I arrived in Costa Rica, I was sitting in the kitchen of one of the Lutheran church communities there – most of them are house churches. I was talking with the pastor and the diaconal minister there, sharing with them about how my understanding of the job had changed.
And the pastor said, “You know, we created that job description over a year ago. And that’s probably what we needed then. But we’ve changed, and this is what we need now.” And as he and the diaconal minister shared with me about the needs of that particular community, I felt something inside of me shift.
And they talked, I recognized that Jesus had been walking with me the whole time. Letting me go through what I needed to, revealing himself along the way.
There is a lot of disappointment in our world right now. A lot of people are saying, “We had hoped…”
On an intellectual level, we know that life doesn’t always go the way we think it will – and sometimes it even gets completely upended. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens; disappointment and grief are real, and they’re hard emotions. And Jesus gets that. He knew what the disciples felt that day as he walked with them to Emmaus because he’d felt it himself.
In the same way, Jesus walks with us in our disappointment, grief, sadness, and whatever. He felt the full range of human emotion when he walked on this earth. He knows what it feels like to be frustrated and let down and scared and so sad that you don’t even know which end is up.
But he doesn’t hurry us through it. He meets us where we are and walks at our pace. And as he walks with us, Jesus is revealed in the simplest of acts:
When Jesus reveals himself to us in our grief and disappointment, it doesn’t always make everything better all at once. But these reminders, these revelations, allow us to keep moving forward even when we’re not aware that we’re doing it.
And eventually – whether it’s over the course of a few hours, or a month, or longer – something shifts inside of us and we become aware that we aren’t in the same place we started. That we’ve moved forward. And that we’ve eventually moved through it. And we come to understand that Jesus has been walking with us all along, revealing his love and compassion for us. Thanks be to God! Amen.