Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
26 April 2020
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
The story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is one of the most beloved stories of the Gospels. Two verses have been indelibly imprinted on our hearts.
The first one is, the plea of the two for Jesus to remain with them: “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is almost over.”
It is our plea, it is what we long for, ‘stay with us Jesus, this hour and every hour.’
The second verse is as the two think back about how they felt in the presence of Jesus, before they had recognized him in the breaking of the bread. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
The two disciples are disillusioned disciples. They are travelling away from Jerusalem, from the centre of the events of our salvation and toward a place that may have been the location of a Roman garrison. That they travel in the wrong direction is expression of their disillusionment.
Jesus joins them on the road, where they are, and engages them in conversation.The evangelist does not tell us what exactly Jesus talked about, what passages, or what theological ideas Jesus used, except that it was necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory.
But the two on the road to Emmaus do not understand. They do not understand even though they know the scriptures and they know the events of Holy Week. They had all the information yet were unable to connect the dots.
Having all the information yet being unable to connect the dots is not uncommon, perhaps even more so in the information age where we are always drawn to click the next link.And we all long for people who can help us make sense of the world and our lives. The cross, Jesus says to the two and to us, does just that. It does not give us all the answers but it helps us re-frame our questions and ask the right questions, about right relationships with God, each other, and the world.
The inability to connect the dots is so common, including among very educated people, that some medical schools are re-introducing philosophy classes to help physicians with moral reasoning because medical knowledge alone is not enough.1
Perhaps you know these lines from T.S. Eliot,
“O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
o perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
o world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
endless invention, endless experiment,
brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
all our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
but nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.”2
We hear clear allusions to the Christian scriptures and the statement that more information does not help us connect the dots as information alone does not bring us closer to God or each other.
My wife said to me the other day that she can’t believe that Donald Trump is president of the United States.
Of course, many of us have been saying this for the last three years.
Her exclamation came following Trump’s outrageous suggestion that injecting disinfectants might heal people from the Corona virus. It made me think of the so-called medical experiments of the Nazis in concentration camps.
I did answer her, although she had not asked. I said, “He is president because people voted for him.” Which is the scary part. Because if people were capable of voting for Trump, we know that they are also capable of voting for Bolsanaro, Erdoğan, Orbán, or Trump a second time, or anybody else.
Having information does not mean we have understanding or wisdom.
Stanley Hauerwas in a sermon given on the day of the last American presidential election, speaks about Jesus lacking political astuteness when he challenged the authorities and spoke of the destruction of the temple.
He speaks about Paul lacking political savvy and claiming authority to tell the Thessalonians what to do.
He says that neither Paul nor Jesus were elected to anything but simply claimed their authority, Paul as an apostle, Jesus as prophet, priest, and king.
And since all this is part of a sermon on election day, Hauerwas speaks about democracy. He says, “I have called attention to the kind of authority Jesus and Paul enact as a way to suggest that there may be some tension between the political order that is the church and that form of social and political organization called democracy. I need not tell you this is the day Americans elect their president and a host of other offices. We will be told this is the day the people rule. That sounds like a good idea, but you need to remember that there was a democratic moment in the Gospels, and the people asked for Barabbas.”3
Information alone does not bring us closer to God, each other, or the world.
The gift of the Gospel is that it is mediated not through the amassing of information, but that Jesus comes to us as he came to the two disciples on the road, that he frees us from information overload and helps us to connect the dots, that Jesus present in the meal with strangers, is present in our life together, in Word and Sacrament, and in our neighbour.
Welcoming Jesus does not give us all the answers but it helps us connect the dots.
It is where we regain the knowledge we have lost in information, the wisdom we have lost in knowledge, and the life we have lost in living.
Thanks be to God.
1 reported some time ago by Brian Goldman on the CBC’s medical show “White Coat, Black Art.”
2 T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems