Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 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?’ 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
When I was in Divinity School in North Carolina, our program had developed a tradition around graduation. Just before the graduation ceremony, we would have a party to celebrate the new graduates. There was food, of course, but also some fun activities. The graduating third-year students would leave gifts to first- and second- year students who were following in their footsteps. And, the first- and second-year students would write a very silly play where all the characters were members of the graduating class. In my class, that was about 24 people. The more junior students would volunteer to act like the out-going students in the play.
Resources mentioned in this sermon:
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’ So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’
I have been particularly grateful for technology over the last several weeks, as it has let me keep up with people I care about when I can’t safely see them face to face. I know that the Bible talks about seeing through a mirror dimly as though it were a problem. But, these last couple weeks, the mirror of our society that has been social media, has been a gift, even if what I see is incomplete. Recently, I saw, and participated, in something lovely over social media. I’ve been given permission to share it with you today.
My colleague, the Rev. Tamara Torres-McGovern is on staff at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland. She also works with a new church start called Arise. She and her spouse Piper have a really great three-year kid named Tovi. Last week, Piper and Tovi went on a walk. On their walk, they also brought Tovi’s new scooter, which she was excited to learn to ride. According to her mom, there were the usual tumbles you might expect when you are learning to do a new thing, but eventually, little by little, Tovi grew brave enough that she began balancing on one foot and gliding along the sidewalk. I think that’s pretty impressive for the first day out.
As we would say in Tennessee, Tovi was having a big ol’ time, scooting around and laughing out loud. That is, she was having a good time until she fell. And it was a bigger fall than the others she had taken up until that point. The scooter managed to roll over her finger and smashed one of her fingernails way down at the bottom. It bled and bled. Tovi cried and cried. Piper scooped Tovi up and ran home. Now, at first, Tovi wouldn’t let either of her moms touch her finger. But, eventually, they got it everything cleaned up and found a good band aid. I hope it had Star Wars on it. Those are the best band aids.
Something fascinating and very sweet happened after Tovi’s finger had been bandaged up. Once she had finished crying, she asked Tamara, “Mami, when you were little, did this happen to you?” What a thoughtful question! Not that I am surprised. Three-year-olds are very thoughtful. Her mom said not that exact thing, but something else happened. She was sledding down a gravel driveway covered in snow and got to going too fast. Before she had time to think about it, she tried to stop the sled using her elbows. The gravel tore through her jacket and a piece even got stuck in her elbow. Then Tamara showed Tovi the scar that is there now. Tamara shared with that this answer seemed to comfort Tovi.
Then Tovi turned to Piper and asked, “Did this happen to you when you were a kiddo?” And Piper said, “Not that exact thing, but once I was on a four-wheeler that was going too fast and it crashed and see, right here on my cheek, you can see where I got hurt.” According to her Tamara, Tovi was fascinated by these two answers and then asked if they could call her grandmothers to find out if this had happened to either of them when they were little. After the grandmas, Rev. Torres-McGovern said that Tovi ended up asking about almost everyone she knew, wondering about their injuries that had healed into scars. Rev. Torres-McGovern put it this way: it seemed “like somehow, their stories of their injuries… injuries that had that healed, were making her feel braver.”
I heard about Tovi’s accident after her moms, having run out of family injury stories, turned to social media to see if other grown-ups might be willing to tell stories about times they got hurt as kids and ended up with scars. There are at least 89 comments on that post! Three of them are mine. I shared a story about a bike wreck scar on one knee, a scar from scratching my other knee on a heater, and a scar on my pinkie finger from when I cut it on some chipped glass on a candle globe. That last one wasn’t a childhood story. I did that, like, two years ago.
Rev. Torres-McGovern will tell you that not all these stories are easy reads. People shared accounts of hands going through glass panes, severe burns from boiling water, broken bones, missing teeth. There was one woman who nearly lost an entire toe in a childhood cycling accident. After reading these stories, which run the gamut from common childhood antics to harrowing trips into surgery, Rev. Torres-McGovern realized that they all had something in common. She said, “Every single story, no matter how gnarly the injury was, is a story about healing. Because each of those wounds turned into scars. And each of those experiences turned into a story of how the person recovered and got better.” Tamara shared kid-friendly versions of these healing stories with Tovi. Tovi loved them. She began to create stories about her stuffed animals having the same accidents and then getting better. And, Tovi has been getting better herself.
Rev. Torres-McGovern also started making connections between all those healing stories her friends were sharing and the ways humanity is currently learning how to move through the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t know if any of you have seen or heard the writer Rebecca Solnit talk about her research on disasters. She’s been writing about it on social media, where I saw some of her work. My colleague listened to a podcast where she talked about it. On the podcast, Solnit said that often when we are thinking about hope, we try to imagine something in the future for inspiration, a thing that we are looking forward to, maybe even the people we want to leave a better world for. She said that might not be what helps us the most. She said that “hope might be better practiced by looking backwards.”
Let me explain. How do communities know that they can recover after an earthquake? One way is that they look back to the stories of people who experienced earthquakes before them, and how they recovered and that gives them hope that someday, they, too, can recover. I know I’ve been doing this. I have found it very helpful to read accounts from the 1918 flu pandemic. I’ve wanted to see what our forebears did well and also the things they did that we don’t want to repeat. Solnit’s ideas about recovery and healing aren’t always on the scale of a natural disaster or global health crisis. Think about your own life. How have you recovered from the loss of a relationship or the loss of a job or when someone you care about has died? I imagine that talking to people you trust about these losses has been part of your healing process. Perhaps you are a bit like Tovi. Hearing about others who have been hurt and later healed has helped you find your way forward. Solnit tells us that the stories of the survivors who precede us don’t take away our pain, but can give us a map to how we might one day recover, too.
We Christians are a storytelling people. We inherited that from Jesus, who learned it from his Jewish religious traditions. When terrible things happen and we learn to live in a new way, scarred, but also healed and changed, we have learned the power of telling those stories of healing and transformation. We might call it testifying or witnessing or even just telling the truth about how God has moved and how we have survived. Easter is one of those stories of scars and transformation. We begin the story in sadness and desolation, walk to the tomb, and we wind up falling at Jesus’ feet, relieved and awestruck at the Resurrection.
What we can’t forget is that Jesus tells us to tell our stories, to share what we’ve seen and how we’ve been healed. That was his message to the first witnesses to the resurrection, our first preachers of the Resurrected Christ, Mary and Mary Magdalene. Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me. Beloveds, what is the story of survival and healing that you have heard that helps you make your way in this frightening time? What story is Jesus asking you to tell about pain and healing in order to help those around you be less afraid? Surely this is the Resurrection at work in our times, showing us the frailties and bravery of our forebears, and teaching us how to use their testimony to build a more hopeful future. These days don’t quite feel like Easter yet. But, Mary and Mary Magdalene have shown us how to get to the empty tomb. May we follow them, and share our own stories of what Jesus has done.
Resources consulted for this sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.