“Turning Around Again”
I Corinthians 1:18
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 1, 2018
University Baptist Church
When my daughter Becca saw the church sign outside, she said, “dad, that’s good, but I can think of something better.” (It said “Easter Sunday April 1 No Foolin’) Since we don’t have letters for emojis, Becca suggested we write:
If you don’t understand that, you don’t speak texting shorthand. Ask a Millennial or a Generation Z member. It’s a creative way to encourage intergenerational dialogue.
You Only Live Once
Laugh Out Loud
Be Right Back
Easter and April Fool’s Day. It’s the culmination of a year when Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fell on Sundays and when Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day. And just to top it off God gave us snow as a cosmic April Fools joke. You thought it was Spring. Psych!
Today’s scripture is one of many appearances of the resurrected Jesus. Jesus has already appeared to Mary in the garden and to the gathered disciples in their hiding place. In today’s scripture, Jesus encounters two previously unknown members of the community that are on their way home. They had been to Jerusalem to see the big festival, had heard about Jesus, set their hopes on him, but after his crucifixion, they turned around and went home. Jesus appeared to them on their way out of town. And he showed them how to go home in a different way.
You’ve heard the story:
Two friends are walking toward Emmaus, which is a town about as far as St. Paul from Minneapolis. Jesus walked up to them, but they didn’t recognize him. We don’t know how close they were to him, maybe just distant admirers. “Whatcha talkin’ about?” Jesus asks. Jesus was wearing his therapist hat.
They answer indignantly, “are you the only one around here that doesn’t know what happened this past week?”
Rather than state the obvious Jesus prompts them to go on: “what things?”
“The things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and world before God and all the people and how our leaders handed him over to death and crucified him.”
I imagine Jesus saying, “and how did that make you feel?”
“Well, pretty angry and disappointed. We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. It’s been three days. But not only that, some women told us that he had risen. Now we don’t know what to do. So, we’re getting out of town.”
Therapist Jesus said, “well that’s a lot you’re carrying around on your shoulders, it sounds hard for you, maybe not as hard as it was for this Jesus fellow, but hard for you. Now tell me, wasn’t that what the prophets said would happen?” Then he broke protocol and called them foolish and slow of heart to believe. Foolish. There’s that word again. Is Jesus alive or dead? Are we supposed to play it safe or go back into harms way?
Are we supposed to be fools for Christ’s sake? Jesus just smiled at them, as if to say, you know the answer.
Here’s the trick that happens on this April 1st Easter. Death is upended. It does not have the final word. We follow one who proves that the ways of this world are not God’s. Death is the way of the world. If you want to kill a movement, discredit its leaders. If that doesn’t work, then kill them. That will send everyone to the hills, just like Cleopas and his buddy on the road to Emmaus. But God has rewritten the script. Death does not have the final word. There is another reality that begs your attention. It’s so compelling, we can’t ignore it.
When you feel like you are defeated, like every day is Good Friday, except there’s not much good about it, remember that Sunday is around the corner. There is another plan out there. There is a community of people who are foolish enough to play by another set of rules. There are people who are not going to take no for an answer. There are people that are going to plant flowers in the barren deserts of this world. There are people who are going to take to the streets to say, we demand safety in our schools, safety in our homes, safety in our places of worship. People will rise and say, enough of this racism, sexism, xenophobia, and classism. Instead, let’s create something better.
That’s what Easter means.
Jesus was a revolutionary and Easter is the ultimate revolutionary event. We’ve been trying to relive the revolutionary excitement of it ever since.
At the meal when they finally realized it was Jesus, Cleopas and his buddy had a choice. They could continue on the road to Emmaus, or they could turn around again. Turning around is another word for repenting. They chose the latter. And they believed, perhaps for the first time.
And let’s be clear. It was foolish to go back to Jerusalem when you know the outcome. But when you are no longer afraid of death and persecution, you can do so many things. That’s what they did. They embraced a new way of living.
For it was not just about Jesus rising from the dead, it was about the community turning around. The disciples fell asleep on him, betrayed him, denied him and fled. But they came back together on Easter and started telling the story in a new way. They started a new movement that would help create a new order to a world bent on chaos. That’s why we dress up in our finery on Easter Sunday. That’s why we sing Alleluias that have been eschewed from our liturgical vocabulary for the past 47 days. That’s why we have flowers blooming inside, even if they won’t bloom outside for another couple of weeks.
We do all of this because we are committed to a grander cause—one that brings hope, light and beauty.
So what have you been running from? Would paying attention to what scares you help you? Would turning around be a foolish thing or not?
I want to lift up my sister-in-law Joy today. I’ll see her this evening at Easter dinner. She was a theater major in college and met her husband, my brother on stage. They ended up in shows together for a couple of years, and she went on to be a producer and director while my little brother was on stage. She was content doing the off-stage work and bringing the best out of her students.
This past month, she returned to the stage for the first time in 20 years to act in a Pulitzer-prize winning show called “The Rabbit Hole”. She played the mother of a child who had died and the show focused around the different ways the characters grieved. It was certainly Lenten fare. It was raw and true. It was especially raw, knowing that Joy also lost a son and you never really get over it. She rose to the occasion and made the whole thing painfully real. She exposed herself knowing that art is healing and that we can touch something deeper if we allow ourselves to feel it. It was a turning around of sorts. She returned to the stage and showed something much more mature, because of what she had gone through. She shared a set of truths and showed us that tying things up in a nice neat bow is not how life works. She resisted the platitudes that pervade our talk about grief. She posted on social media this week that people always say let me know what I can do for you. But the reality is you don’t know. She said quoting an article:
“Remember your needs might not all look directly like grief needs”. This is so true. I'm so grateful to friends who did things for us that weren't "typical." Things like cleaning our bathrooms, painting walls, shoveling snow in our driveway and deck, sending a letter of encouragement every week (for months!), even buying us a new toilet seat!
I have to believe that a piece of how she was able to be so bold as to act in this show is because of her faith that says that death is not the final word. There is art, and life, and truth and redemption and hope on the other side of the tomb. And it is real and it is good. And yes it is sometimes messy.
One of the great things to come out of the March for our Lives is the poetry of the young activists. Look some up on YouTube. I’m not gonna try to quote them here. I’m too old and the wrong pigment. See these young people in all of their agency and wisdom and power. They have turned around. And they will not take a back seat again. They will speak and they will be heard. The disciples were likely not much older than them. Maybe some were the same age. Mary was after all a young teenager when she sang her Magnificat at Jesus’ birth talking about how God has looked upon the lowliness of this handmaiden, has lifted up those of low degree and sent the rich away empty. Revolutionary words from a young teenager which we hold as eternal truth today.
I think when Jesus talked to the folks on the Emmaus road, he helped them to deal with their grief and encouraged them to not go through it alone. If you run away, death has the final word. Jesus encouraged them to do the foolish thing. Go back. Tell the truth. Join with others who are foolish enough to believe that there is a better way.
It may not come right away, but get with some people who sing alleluia. If you can’t sing it yet, that’s oaky. Let them sing it for you until you are ready to join along. It gets better if you turn around again and face life with a confidence that says, I follow one who overcame the worst that the world can throw at you. Then you might say with them, I will also rise again. May it be so with all of us.