The Road of Heartbreak ~ Easter 3A 04/30/17

The Road of Heartbreak
Text: Luke 24:13-35
April 30, 2017 ~ Third Sunday of Easter
Sermon by Rev. Heather M. Hinton

Two weeks ago, on Easter, we heard about Mary Magdalene in the garden, where she encountered the risen Christ. Last week we joined the terrified disciples in a locked room as they mourned Jesus’ death and feared for their own lives. And we stayed with them in that locked room until Jesus finally appeared to them, showing them his wounded hands and side. And we rejoiced with them as they finally came to understand what Mary already knew: Christ is risen indeed!

But that was John.

This is Luke.

In Luke, there is no locked room. There’s no garden. There are just two men, men we have not met before and about whom we know essentially nothing. Just two men, and a road. As they walk, they are “talking and discussing” all that had happened in Jerusalem, that holy city of hopes and dreams, now become a city of horror, death, fear, and shame. The Greek suggests that they weren’t just talking, they were “examining the evidence” together. They were really going over everything carefully, trying to understand what had happened and what it all meant.

Deep in thought and conversation, Cleopas and the other disciple whose name we don’t even know make that slow and tiring journey, walking towards Emmaus one step at a time for seven miles.

We can imagine what they might be feeling. It can be summed up in that plaintive little phrase they are about to use: “we had hoped.”

We know that feeling.

We had hoped the cancer was gone. We had hoped the job would work out. We had hoped the relationship could be repaired. We had hoped the addiction had been beaten. We had hoped to have a baby. We had hoped to finish our degree. We had hoped for our loved ones, for the world, for ourselves…We had hoped…but…

Sheryl Sandberg had hoped she would have many more years with her husband David. Sheryl’s name may be one you recognize; she is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, author of Lean In, and founder of leanin.org. She and Dave were on vacation in 2015 when he suddenly and totally unexpectedly died. He was forty-seven years old and completely healthy; he died while exercising and Sheryl was the one to find him. Their children were seven and ten. Sheryl had hoped for many more years with him. She had hoped for their children to have many more years with him. Instead, she had to fly home from that vacation, alone, and tell her two kids that they would never see their dad again.

She had hoped, but…

What she discovered in the aftermath of that unfathomable loss is that we, as a culture, are generally pretty bad about helping people through such times. Here is what she says in a book she just co-wrote with psychologist Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy:

People continually avoided the subject. I went to a close friend’s house for dinner, and she and her husband made small talk the entire time. I listened, mystified, keeping my thoughts to myself. “You’re right. The Warriors are totally crushing it. And you know who really loved that team? Dave.” I got emails from friends asking me to fly to their cities to speak at their events without acknowledging that travel might be more difficult for me now. “Oh, it’s just an overnight? Sure, I’ll see if Dave can come back to life and put the kids to bed.” I ran into friends at local parks who talked about the weather. “Yes, the weather has been weird with all this rain and death.”

Sheryl is point to a truth any of us who have deeply grieved know: the rest of the world makes no sense when you are walking the road of heartbreak – any heartbreak. Death isn’t the only heartbreak we face in life, it isn’t the only time we say in despair, “I had hoped…” Illness, job loss, broken relationships, sudden life changes of any kind all can plunge us into grief. And when we’re in that place of pain, it can be unfathomable how it can keep going, how everyone else can keep acting so normal, when everything in our own world has come crashing down.

Just when people pull away because they don’t know what to say, or because their own pain is reignited by ours, or because they simply don’t understand, just when we get left alone is when we most need companionship. And instead we get isolation, that feeling of being completely alone in our pain.

This is the road the two disciples find themselves walking on that Easter morning. They are headed back to “normal” life, bewildered, grief-stricken, uncomprehending, and alone. Right at this critical moment is when Jesus draws up alongside them and asks, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

“They stood still, looking sad,” the text says. The disciples literally stop in their tracks. The question brings them to a complete halt as they feel the fullness of their grief. In disbelief, they ask this unfamiliar man, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

Standing still in the road with them, Jesus asks, “What things?”

What things?

What an astute question.

Reflecting on those everyday interactions that became so painful after Dave’s death, Sheryl says this:

No one meant harm by it. And I saw myself in a lot of those mis-steps that people made to me. When I saw people that I knew were facing real adversity, I would say, “How are you?” figuring that if they wanted to talk, they would talk. But it’s so hard to bring this up. “Well, how am I? OK, my husband just died. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. I don’t know how to parent my children alone. And I’m quite certain I’ll never feel a moment of happiness again.” I mean, that’s not an answer to the question, “How are you?” But if you say to someone, “How are you today? I know you are suffering. If you want to talk about it, I’m here,” then people can bring it up. [1]

Jesus comes alongside the disciples, walks with them at their pace, and asks not, “hey, guys, what’s up? How’s it going?” but “What are you talking about?”

When they stop, he knows they want to talk, so he stops too and waits for the words to come.

And when they begin to give an answer, he encourages them to talk more by saying, “What things?” It’s as if he’s saying, “It’s ok. I know you’re unbelievably sad. I know your hearts are breaking and you’re suffering. Tell me about it. Name it and speak it and let me share the pain of it with you. Tell me more. I will stand here and listen as long as you want to talk, I will walk along with you for as long as you want the company. Your grief is not too much for me to bear.”

And they share it all. “They share what it was like to look across Golgotha and see the Roman guards celebrating their victory, what it was like to walk through Jerusalem and be laughed at by those who never thought Jesus was the Messiah. They share what it was like to flee the city, fearful that they might be crucified next – to start toward a destination unknown because they simply can’t stay where they are. They share what it is like to feel defeated, deflated, and alone.”

The soles of the shoes of every single one of us have touched the road of heartbreak, of broken hopes, of lost dreams. Sometimes just being assured of Jesus’ resurrection, of the triumph of life over death, of Jesus’ presence with us, is enough to pull us through the sadness. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a long road from grief to love, from despair to hope, from fear to faith. Sometimes, as someone has said, “it takes both the time it takes to walk from one town to another and the opportunity for an open and honest conversation,” for our own resurrection to occur. [2]

When we are at our best, Second Congregational Church, this community of faith is deeply committed to walking that road together – a road that is sometimes one of heartbreak and sometimes one of joy, and oftentimes one of neither one in particular. But especially when one of our number is broken-hearted, I hope that we will strive to do as Jesus did: walk alongside him and ask, “How are you doing today?” I hope that we will stand still with her and say, “I know you’re suffering. Do you want to tell me how you’re feeling today?”

In this community, we can remind one another that we are all on a journey of faith, and that the road to faith is sometimes very long. At any given moment, someone among us is walking that road of broken hopes and dreams, trying to get back to the place of faith and joy. “Some may need only walk seven miles, others may feel that it’s more like seventy or 700. That’s OK. Jesus will walk that distance with them, and so will we.” And as we walk, we will remind each other that we are here to have holy conversations with one another. “We can bring our hopes – dashed or still growing – and our questions – spoken or still lingering in the depths of the heart – and this community will not just welcome us, but cherish us.” [3]

And then we can all come to the Table, and then we invite Jesus to be among us and to do what he did so often with his disciples: we ask him to take the bread, bless it, break it, and give it to us, reminding us that he is always with us, walking with us on whatever road we find ourselves. And we pray that at this time, at the Table or just gathered together in his name, our eyes too will be opened: open to recognize his presence with us in all the ordinary things of life. Ordinary things like bread and wine. Ordinary things like a casserole delivered by a friend when we are too exhausted to cook. Ordinary things like a hug, or a simple and sincere question, or a moment of quiet and still companionship. And perhaps most of all, whether we are sure of our footing or not, whether we are feeling doubtful or faithful, broken or whole, we our hope is this: that we will recognize Jesus not only in the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the bread, but also in the faces of all those gathered around the Table with us. We have hoped…and for these things, never in vain. As long as we invite Jesus to come and stay with us as the disciples did as night began to fall during their journey to Emmaus, that hope will always be realized.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Sheryl Sandberg, “Resilience After Unimaginable Loss,” OnBeing 24 April 2017.

[2] David Lose, http://www.davidlose.net/2017/04/easter-3-a-dashed-hopes-and-surprising-grace/

[3] ibid.

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