“Walking Along, Looking Sad”
Isaiah 25:6-8; Luke 24:13-35
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
April 8, 2018
Some of the best love stories leave us hanging. It is a common thing to go to a movie or read a book about a great love affair and get swept up in the initial flirtation and the budding romance. We follow through the misunderstandings and the periods of love-crossed-ness. And then the build-up reaches its peak: the couple marries, or they announce their love for one another, or they find one another again. Then the movie is over; you turn and it is the last page in the book; scene ended. What a wonderful adventure these stories take us on, except they leave us hanging. Very few have the vision and wisdom to answer the crucial questions: what is involved in keeping that love strong? What does it take to retain romance over decades? What happens when the honeymoon is over?
We can have these same questions about our faith love story too. Easter morning comes and the grave is empty: he is risen, he is risen indeed! Blow the trumpet and shout halleluiah. Then the curtain falls and the book comes to an end. That is how some of the gospels conclude, but not Luke. Luke helps us with those questions of vision and wisdom and the long view of love.
You see, for Luke, Easter is not over. We encounter disciples in so many different scenes and settings in these last chapters that we may fail to notice that they are all happening on the same day. The women find an empty tomb the same day that Jesus tells his disciples to touch his hands and feet, the same day that two friends walk to Emmaus. All of these things happen on the same day.
When Cleopas and his friend head for the town of Emmaus they are leaving Jerusalem. You cannot expect them to stay there forever. They must get on with it. Sure it has been an eventful morning, what with the surprises and all, but they have work to get to and obligations to meet. The two have about 7 miles to go which will take them only a couple of hours but the journey will feel like a lifetime.
The great irony on this two-hour-lifetime journey is that it is still Easter day and Luke tells us they are walking along, looking sad. The great irony is that it is still Easter day and Jesus is right there with them and yet they miss him. As they walk, they talk to one another and Jesus joins them in their strides and he asks them, “What are you discussing with each other as you walk along?” Basically, he says to them, What are you doing? That is what the risen Lord of their lives wants to know as they walk their long journey. What are you doing?
What a gift this account is for us because Easter morning has come—we have reached the peak of the story where we’ve found love and begun a new life and it could be the last page of the story. But we still have many miles to go before we are through. We want our love to remain strong in the face of the miles that lie ahead of us so what are we going to do? What are we going to do as we walk along?
It was an easy question to answer in the beginning of our faith. We were grateful and joyful and inspired. But the day has grown long. Are we going to forget what we are about just because it is getting on to evening? That is what the text says. It says that their journey has been so long that it is becoming evening. The halleluiahs of the morning have long faded as the sky grows dark. It is evening for the disciples.
There is something I need to say to you because it is just us and because we love one another so we can be honest with one another. It is this: there are many who say that Christian churches are in the evening of their lives; that their time is almost done. There are some who would say we are in the evening of our life; that this congregation’s time is almost done.
And they may be right.
It may be evening for us. Over the last 20 years, membership in our denomination has declined by 43% and it is not just our denomination. Maybe you have felt the darkening in the sky as a disillusionment that has fallen upon you for this is not how you thought the life of the Church would go. Our own congregation, in the same 20 years has declined by half. So maybe you can tell evening is here because you are disoriented for this is not at all what your church once was. It may be evening for you. It may be evening for us.
If it is, if it is your evening, if it is our evening, Cleopas and his friend guide us in what to do. Luke tells us when they saw that evening was upon them, “they urged Jesus to stay with them.” If it is evening, then how much more necessary is it that we urge our Lord to stay with us? Evening is not a time to fear. Everything that lives will die and we are not afraid of death. Out of death comes resurrection. That is who are! That is what we believe! But we will forget if he does not stay with us. So if it is evening, let us urge him to stay.
I do not know what time it is for us. That hour is in God’s hands. Perhaps we have the full 7 miles left to go in this journey or perhaps we are halfway there. Or, perhaps, there are really only a few more steps. No matter how long the walk still is, Jesus’ question is primary: What are you doing? Are you going to walk along, looking sad?
There is great joy in a “Morning has Broken” time of faith, but there is great trust in an evening faith that sings “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens, Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless Lord, abide with me.”
There is a great giving-over that we will never do in the heady moments of the morning but evening’s shadows bring it out of us. It is a beautiful thing, this reliance and trust we come to when the day ends. And, do not forget: it is evening that brings the greatest gift of all. At least it did for Cleopas and his traveling companion. It is when evening comes that the Lord reveals himself and shows how close he has been the whole day and, even more, he becomes our host. An evening faith is different from its morning sister. It is different than the wedding day and than the honeymoon. An evening faith demands perseverance and trust in a way the other hours don’t.
How do we see this journey through? How do we walk it with a sustained love? First, we will not walk it looking sad. Even though the sun may be setting, it is still Easter day. Let’s not spend it downcast! Second, we will talk about the things that matter. When Jesus asks us, What are you doing? he will find that we are about his mission and his call. Third, we will not fear the evening. For it is evening when we find out he has been our guide and stay, every hour of this journey.
Whatever road you have left, whatever road we have left, Jesus is here, walking alongside us, waiting to see if we will urge him to stay. I hope we will or else we will be liable to forget what matters most: though evening comes,
it is still Easter day.